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Young starters ready for Yankee Stadium exams

Young starters ready for Yankee Stadium exams

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Young starters ready for Yankee Stadium exams
DETROIT -- Here is an update on the four starting pitchers the Rangers used to take down the Yankees in the 2010 American League Championship Series:

Cliff Lee left as a free agent, Tommy Hunter is on the disabled list, C.J. Wilson pitched Tuesday and Colby Lewis is back in Texas with his wife Jenny after she gave birth to their daughter on Wednesday.

So none of them will be available when Texas opens a three-game series against New York on Friday night in the Bronx. Instead, the Rangers will go with left-handers Matt Harrison and Derek Holland and right-hander Alexi Ogando in their first rematch with the Yankees since the ALCS.

"It's a challenge," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "We're going to find out just how far along they are. I feel pretty good about them. If we go in there and the Yankees beat us, they beat us. It's not because we're tight or we couldn't pitch in Yankee Stadium."

So far, those three have pitched well in other places. Harrison, Holland and Ogando are a combined 6-0 with a 1.15 ERA in six starts. All three faced sizable odds in trying to win spots in the rotation this spring; now they have taken over that rotation for the big showdown with the Yankees.

"I'm just excited to get out there and show the Yankees we're still the team to beat," Holland said. "Just make my pitches and let my defense make plays."

Holland, scheduled to pitch on Saturday opposite Freddy Garcia, has started at Yankee Stadium once before. It did not go well. He was the Rangers' starter on Aug. 26, 2009, and he allowed six runs in six innings in a 9-2 loss.

Holland more than made up for that in Game 4 of the ALCS when he came in to relieve Hunter in the fourth inning. Holland was hardly fazed by his surroundings. He threw 3 2/3 scoreless innings and was the winning pitcher as Texas, trailing 3-2 after four, rallied for a 10-3 victory.

It is his biggest moment to date with the Rangers.

"If you go out there with the mindset that you're ready and good to go, you're going to be tough to beat," Holland said. "You just have to be physically and mentally ready to go. They are a good team and they're playing well, so it will be a chance to make a strong statement."

This will be a new experience for Harrison, who will be opposed by Ivan Nova on Friday. Harrison has pitched in 65 Major League games, including five against the Yankees. But he has never pitched against them in the Bronx, either at the old ballpark or the current Yankee Stadium, now in its third season. Harrison was not on the postseason roster last year.

"You just have to make your pitches and pitch your game," Harrison said. "It shouldn't matter who we're playing or where you're pitching. You have a game plan and you have a scouting report. If you stick to that, you'll be fine."

Harrison's success this season has been attributed to his tougher mental edge, his willingness to attack the strike zone and hitters. Washington said Harrison has turned the corner this season, but Yankee Stadium could be the real barometer on how tough he has become.

Former Rangers left-hander Kenny Rogers was 2-5 with a 7.83 ERA in nine starts and nine relief appearances for Texas in the Bronx. Jon Matlack, another left-hander who once pitched for the Rangers, was 0-4 with a 5.01 ERA for Texas there.

"Pitching in a ballpark like that for the first time, with all the history, should be pretty special," Harrison said. "But you still have to make pitches."

Ogando made six appearances against the Yankees as a rookie last season, but only one at Yankee Stadium. He allowed a run in the eighth inning of a 7-2 loss in Game 5. That's the only run he has given up to the Yanks. Ogando pitched 3 2/3 scoreless innings over five appearances, including one scoreless innings in Game 2 of the ALCS, but those were all in relief.

Now he will be making his first Yankee Stadium start and his third in the Major Leagues. But that run he gave up in Game 5 last October? That's the last run Ogando has given up. He pitched 3 2/3 scoreless innings in the World Series and has started this season with a combined 13 scoreless innings in a 3-2 victory over the Mariners and a 2-0 victory over the Tigers.

The three young pitchers heading into the lion's den this weekend are the reason why the Rangers' rotation is 8-1 with a Major League-best 2.45 ERA. Ogando will get the Sunday night game on national cable television. He'll be opposed by CC Sabathia.

"They don't look scared," said Rangers pitcher Brandon Webb, the 2006 National League Cy Young Award winner and a 22-game winner in 2008. "They're fearless and they attack hitters. No matter who it is, they're not pitching around guys, except when the situation calls for it. They don't care who is up there, they attack the zone with strikes and go deep in the games."

"These guys are good."

Yankee Stadium could be the ultimate test of that.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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