ARLINGTON Two starts do not rate as a large enough sampling to worry about Matt Harrison, the winner of 32 games the past two seasons and the recipient of a five-year, $55 million contract in the off-season.
But the pitching lines from those two starts have not been particularly attractive. First, he lost to lowly Houston in the season opener, and on Saturday put his team in an early hole it could never escape.
Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo hit two-run homers in the first inning off Harrison, and Texas Rangers hitters couldn’t match the big bats of the Los Angeles Angels in an 8-4 loss at sold-out Rangers Ballpark.
Rather than worry about Harrison, who admitted that he is frustrated, Rangers manager Ron Washington said that the left-hander gave the Rangers a chance to catch up by allowing only one run over the next four innings.
“There’s no level of concern,” Washington said. “He just misfired some pitches, and they didn’t miss.
“He had trouble settling in in the first two innings, and after that he went to work and got us three zeroes. Today they came out and jumped on us. He made some mistakes with location, and they made him pay for it. Harry will be fine.”
Mitch Moreland collected his first hit of the season, a solo homer to give the Rangers their first run in the third. Ian Kinsler added a solo shot two batters later as the Rangers closed within 5-2.
Pujols added the Angels’ fourth and final homer of the day in the sixth, three batters after Peter Bourjos had started the inning with one. Pujols was also intentionally walked three times ahead of Josh Hamilton, who was retired each time.
Hamilton went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts and a run after a first-inning walk ahead of the Trumbo blast. The former Rangers outfielder, booed lustily again when announced and cheered wildly after making an out, is 0 for 8 with four strikeouts in the series and 1 for 20 on the season.
“Hamilton isn’t swinging the bat well, and we had some left-handers out there,” Washington said. “Each time we didn’t walk him [Pujols], you saw what happened.”
A rugged early-season stretch isn’t uncommon for Harrison, who has struggled at the end of April or in early May the past three seasons. But he has also started those seasons quickly, and is 0-2 for the first time since 2009.
His problem Saturday was elevating pitches to the wrong hitters. Erick Aybar doubled to center on a sinker that stayed up in the strike zone. Pujols followed with a shot to center, again on a sinker that was up, and Trumbo also hammered a flat, high sinker.
Harrison allowed only five hits the rest of his day, and two of those were on the infield.
“Any ball I left up was either leaving the ballpark or about to,” Harrison said. “I tried to do damage control from there, and had to throw a lot of pitches to do it. As the game went on, it started getting better. I just didn’t put it together in the first.”
David Murphy tripled home a run in the sixth, and Nelson Cruz started the ninth with a homer for a Rangers offense that banged out nine more hits. Six of those were against Tommy Hanson in six innings, but the right-hander didn’t issue any walks and pitched around leadoff hits in the fourth and fifth.
“One thing was we hadn’t faced him,” shortstop Elvis Andrus said. “The good thing about him is he kept the ball down and he kept us off-balance.”
Hanson, acquired from Atlanta in the off-season, also mowed down the Rangers in order over the first two innings on 19 pitches. Harrison, meanwhile, was bowled over.
“Just a bad outing. A very bad first inning,” Harrison said. “I put us in a big hole early. It’s hard to battle back.”