Harrison eager to make up for lost playoff time

Harrison eager to make up for lost playoff time

Harrison eager to make up for lost playoff time
ST. PETERSBURG -- His name missing from Texas' 2010 postseason roster, left-hander Matt Harrison is a big reason why the Rangers even have one again this year.

The 26-year-old hurler, fueled by frustration stemming from the visual of his teammates enjoying a playoff surge without his help last fall, compiled a 14-9 record and 3.39 ERA for the Rangers while spending the entire 2011 campaign in the starting rotation -- a first in his Major League career.

"He played a big part in our returning here with the opportunity to play in postseason," Texas manager Ron Washington said. "And he certainly has shown that he has the ability to go out there and keep his team in the ballgame, which is what we ask of all of our starting pitchers."

Harrison, one of many prizes exchanged in the 2007 Mark Teixeira trade, has earned the chance to showcase that much on baseball's biggest stage on Tuesday, when he's set to take the mound while countering Tampa Bay rookie sensation Jeremy Hellickson and Co. in Game 4 of the American League Division Series. With the Rangers entering Tuesday with a 2-1 series lead, a win for Harrison would send the Rangers to the AL Championship Series for the second straight year.

Tale of the Tape: Game 4
2011 Regular Season
Overall: 30 GS, 14-9, 3.39 ERA, 57 BB, 126 K
Overall: 28 GS, 13-10, 2.90 ERA, 67 BB, 116 K.
Key stat: Went 4-0 with a 2.64 ERA in five September starts
Key stat: Has allowed three earned runs or less in 25 starts
At Tropicana Field
2011: No starts
Career: No starts
2011: 14 GS, 6-5, 2.54 ERA
Career: 16 GS, 8- 5, 2.51 ERA
Against this opponent
2011: No starts
Career: 1 GS, 1-0, 1.29 ERA
2011: 1 GS, 0-1, 3.00 ERA
Career: 1 GS, 0-1, 3.00 ERA
Loves to face: Casey Kotchman, 0-for- 7
Hates to face: Johnny Damon, 5-for-10
Loves to face: Ian Kinsler, 0-for-4
Hates to face: Josh Hamilton, 2-for-3
Game breakdown
Why he'll win: Pitched six innings and gave up just one run on five hits in last start
Why he'll win: Leads AL with 2.50 ERA since All-Star break
Pitcher beware: Allowed a run on a hit and a walk in 2/3 innings in Game 1
Pitcher beware: Walked four batters in his last outing, a loss, in Class A
Bottom line: First time's a charm?
Bottom line: Rookie off to deft start

It marks Harrison's first career playoff start, though his first appearance already came and went just three days ago thanks to Texas' decision to turn his regular side session into a relief appearance during Friday's 9-0 Game 1 loss.

The southpaw threw 15 pitches, recording a pair of outs and letting up one run on one hit and one walk, all the while shaking off a hefty dose of nerves.

"I think it definitely helped," Harrison said. "It was better for me to do that than just throw on the side. I actually get into the postseason game and get the butterflies out of the way."

Not completely, though.

"Once you get on the field and you get that first batter out of the way, the first pitch, your nerves calm down," he said. "So it gets a little bit easier after that. But I think if you're not nervous, I think it's probably time to go home."

Home is where the pitcher watched much of last year's playoff games, confined to a couch after spending much of the season tending to injuries, other times restricted to a bullpen role. Just six of his 37 appearances during the year were starts.

"Being sent to the bullpen and not making the playoff roster, it really made me -- I guess I had to find out a way to stay up here and be successful," Harrison said. "And when I started reading those books, it really opened up my eyes to the mental side and it helped me be more focused this year."

"The Mental ABC's of Pitching" and "The Tao of Sports" were sitting on Harrison's coffee table -- had been for about a year. But only then was it time, Harrison decided, to actually rid them of collected dust and himself of a narrow perspective of the game.

"I think it kind of hit me hard when I saw those playoff highlights and I wanted to be in that experience this year," he said. "So I picked those up and it opened my eyes to a lot of different sides of the game, which is the mental part of it."

Much has been made of fellow lefty Derek Holland's maturation and development this season, and for good reason. But Harrison should likely be included in those conversations, too.

"I made sure I took one bat at a time and I wasn't looking ahead or behind at what happened behind me, what happens with the defense or the run support; it is just a matter of making sure that I stay focused on the task at hand," he said. "And that's what really has turned my career around so far this year."

Aside from Friday, the youngster's lone appearance against the Rays this season was two scoreless innings in relief on Aug. 31, which came during a 10-day resting period between starts after a loss to Boston on Aug. 24. The breather proved helpful, as he returned to the rotation on Sept. 4 and was 4-0 with a 2.64 ERA in his final five starts.

The Rangers won each of those five games, overall claiming victory in 13 of Harrison's last 16 outings. Tuesday could bring about No. 14, while Harrison becomes the first AL pitcher with a start and relief appearance in an ALDS since the Yankees' Randy Johnson in 2005.

"We have the same amount of confidence any time each and every one of our pitchers take the mound, because, as I keep repeating, their purpose is not to go out there and try to throw a shutout," Washington said. "Yeah, you can have that on your mind, but the whole purpose is just to keep your team in the ballgame. Give us a chance to put some runs on the board and see what happen. And that's what 'Harri' does, and he does it very well."

Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.