Harden regaining overpowering velocity

Harden regaining overpowering velocity

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rangers manager Ron Washington said before Friday's game that he was not concerned about Rich Harden.

But Washington did admit that he wanted Harden to "give us something to hold on to."

Harden, off to a slow start this spring, may have done just that when his intensity kicked in and he started "finishing off" his pitches. That transformation came in the third inning of the Rangers' 6-3 loss to the Athletics on Friday afternoon.

Harden had a rough start to the afternoon but ended up becoming the first Texas pitcher to throw 100 pitches in a game. He finished with 102 over 5 2/3 innings and Washington confirmed afterward it was an outing worth embracing.

"Definitely," Washington said. "He battled. He started getting some velocity going a little bit and he really competed. He gave up two runs in the first and then a home run, but after that he went to work throwing the baseball and doing exactly what he needed doing."

Harden, who took an 11.25 ERA into the game, had a rough couple of innings, giving up three runs as seven of the first 12 batters he faced reached base on four hits and three walks. Then he struck out Jack Cust with the bases loaded and ended up retiring 12 of the last 15 hitters he faced. Two reached on walks and one was hit by a pitch.

"I just picked up my intensity," Harden said. "The key was getting my off-speed pitch going with good action and arm speed. That got them off my fastball. That hasn't been there this spring and I had to get it going."

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Harden's velocity was up over the final three innings. He was 88-91 mph on his fastball in the first couple of innings and 92-94 after that. That was his best showing of the spring on the radar gun but not something he was fretting about.

"I knew it's there," Harden said. "I never felt the need to prove anything to anybody."

But the biggest change was his changeup. That's his most important pitch and it has been erratic this spring. He finally seemed to gain command of it on Friday against the Athletics.

"It's a matter of getting it going in a game and trusting it," Harden said. "I felt great the last four innings. That's where I want to be during the regular season. I started to get tired the last inning but I wanted to continue finishing my pitches. When you get tired you get the ball up but I was able to finish my pitches and keep the ball down."

There is still some work to do. He walked five and hit a batter as he saw his pitch count elevate. His command is still somewhat erratic, according to the scouts that watched him from behind the plate. He also didn't get many swings and misses on the changeup. That's the pitch that has allowed him to strike out 9.35 batters per nine innings over the past seven years, the highest ratio among all pitchers with at least 125 starts.

"If he can get his velocity up on his fastball, he'll get some bites on those," Washington said.

But Friday showed he is headed in the right direction and the Rangers were eager to embrace this outing.

"Very positive," Washington said. "It seemed to me he got a little upset and let it fly."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.