Eric Hosmer didn’t notice any difference between the Matt Harrison who pitched Tuesday morning in a “B” spring training game and the Matt Harrison who was an All-Star in 2012 before undergoing three surgeries last year.
“The ball speed was there, his movement was there,” said Hosmer, the Kansas City Royals’ slugger who is 2 for 6 with two strikeouts in regular-season at-bats against Harrison.
“He didn’t seem fatigued at all that one inning, so it seems like he’s healthy. He looked like the same guy we faced a couple years ago.”
That’s a positive review for Harrison. Throwing a scoreless inning in a “B” game It marked his first game action in seven months. But the “B’ game designation might be a little misleading, considering Harrison faced four established big leaguers.
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He retired Alcides Escobar on a popup down the right-field line that required a sliding catch by second baseman Rougned Odor. Harrison then allowed a single up the middle by Mike Moustakas, retired Hosmer on a fielder’s choice grounder and got Danny Valencia to fly out.
Harrison threw 11 pitches, six for strikes, and felt he could have pitched an additional inning.
“It was definitely fun, wasn’t nervous at all,” Harrison said. “It had been so long since I faced guys in a game, I was just eager to get out there and get after it.”
Harrison joked that he was so amped up that he wouldn’t have held back even if his mom got in the batter’s box.
“Anytime a hitter steps in the box, I’m ready to compete,” he said.
Harrison got everything he wanted to out of the outing. He threw mostly fastballs with a couple sliders and a changeup. The only pitch he didn’t throw was his curveball.
Equally important, Harrison said, was testing out his back during Hosmer’s grounder. Harrison went to cover first base for a potential double play, but the throw was behind him and he reached backward to try to catch it.
He wasn’t able to make the catch and the ball bounced off the fencing in front of the dugout, but at least he tested his back strength.
“I got a little fidgety and got a little jumpy and couldn’t get my feet set, but that was a good test,” he said.
Harrison also threw in a slide step on his final pitch of the day.
For Harrison and the Rangers, it marked an important step in his return to the big leagues. The journey back has been longer than expected.
Harrison started Opening Day last season but made only one additional start before undergoing a pair of back surgeries last April and May to repair a herniated disk. He made a few medical rehabilitation starts, but his season ended once he had surgery to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome in September.
He last pitched in the big leagues on April 6 and last pitched in a game setting on Aug. 9 during a medical rehabilitation assignment with Triple A Round Rock. But Tuesday he looked like his old self to everybody on hand.
“He kept the ball down, had good sink,” manager Ron Washington said. “He faced some pretty good hitters who have been hitting and he hadn’t been pitching, so that was real good.”
Next up for Harrison will be another start, probably in a Cactus League game, but that has not been determined. Neither has a timeline for his return. The Rangers and Harrison are on the same page. Each want the return as soon as possible, but also want him to be in the best possible situation to avoid another injury-plagued season.
“It’s hard for me to say,” Harrison said. “I don’t know the full program yet about how they’re going to take me from this point forward. I’d like to be back at some point before mid-April, but that’s hard to say.”