SEATTLE -- Matt Harrison might have been the only person around who believed that he would be where he has been all season and will be for an 18th time today.
He's still in the Texas Rangers' rotation, a spot he had to earn as an afterthought in spring training and hold onto after two lousy starts in late April and early May.
While missing out on the playoff roster last year served as motivation to prove his doubters wrong, his focus has shifted to proving to himself that he can be a quality major league starting pitcher.
There are still a few hurdles he needs to clear before he'll be pleased with his 2011 season -- first and foremost reaching the finish line -- but he's already done more than many people ever believed he would.
"I'm happy with my first half, but I'm not really satisfied yet," Harrison said. "I need to keep going with it. I need to keep making quality starts and keep taking us deep in games."
Harrison will start the finale of the four-game series at Safeco Field today with a 7-7 record and a sparkling 3.04 ERA, second on the team only to Alexi Ogando, another pleasant surprise this season.
Harrison started fast, winning his first three starts, then hit a wall in two starts that saw him allow 11 runs in 4 2/3 innings.
When doubts about him surfaced, he sank them. His ERA since the hiccups against Toronto and Oakland is 2.30 (18 earned runs in 70 1/3 innings).
Manager Ron Washington said Harrison's more mature approach allowed for the turnaround.
"I'm seeing maturity, focus and believing in himself," Washington said. "He walks with a different swagger right now. He's confident, and he hasn't let adversity affect him. He came in ready to do what he's doing, and I'm proud of him."
The left-hander has already exceeded his previous career-highs in starts by two (17) and innings pitched by 20 (1032/3). The most innings he has thrown as a professional is 167 2/3 at three levels in 2008.
Though Harrison has been in the Opening Day rotation for three straight years, the innings haven't been there. Thoracic outlet syndrome got him in 2009, and an early injury last year put him in the bullpen.
A rainout, a blister and a kidney stone have cost him perhaps 20 innings this season, yet Harrison wants to eclipse 200 this year. If he makes 14 starts in the second half, he will have to average seven innings.
"This is the most innings I've had in the major leagues in a season, but I'm hoping to have a lot more," Harrison said. "I haven't done it in a couple years, but I have been up there before."
Harrison is far better conditioned than he was in 2008. He has bought into team president Nolan Ryan's theory of pitching conditioning, shedding weight and working out harder than ever.
That's one reason Harrison and Washington believe that he can join the 200 club.
"He's an animal," Washington said. "I think he can do it. He doesn't have any health problems. If he keeps getting us deep in ballgames, he should be able to get it done."
Need another reason? Harrison is proving to himself that he can do the things that quality big-league starters do. He just needs to reach the finish line to be fully convinced.
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760