Harrison zeroed in, Hamilton powers up in Texas Rangers' win

ARLINGTON -- The undisputed best pitcher in the Texas Rangers' spring camp was Matt Harrison, though he ranked as an also-ran to others on the staff when it came to the amount of attention he received from the media.

That's just fine with the even-tempered left-hander, who quietly posted the second-best ERA among Rangers starters last year during his breakthrough season.

Nothing much changed on the mound Sunday night, though he had to share the spotlight with Josh Hamilton.

Harrison threw six scoreless innings in his 2012 debut, and Hamilton hit a mammoth homer and made two diving catches in center field as the Rangers pitched and popped their way to a 5-0 victory against Chicago.

"I don't know why no one ever talks about this guy," leadoff hitter Ian Kinsler said of Harrison. "He shows that he can pitch. He adds and subtracts with his fastball. He can throw his off-speed pitches for a strike whenever he needs one. He's just a big ol' country boy who loves to play baseball."

The Rangers swatted three homers, as David Murphy and Adrian Beltre joined Hamilton in finding the seats for the first time this season. Those three also had all six of the team's hits with two each.

Murphy started the scoring with a solo shot off Gavin Floyd in the third inning, and Hamilton singled ahead of Beltre's homer in the fourth for a 3-0 cushion. Their 396-foot and 410-foot blasts, though, were dwarfed by the 441-footer Hamilton put into the home-run porch to start the sixth.

"I thought it was going to hit the roof out there," Harrison said.

Hamilton brought the Rangers Ballpark crowd of 45,368 to its feet again a half-inning later, as he sprinted into left field to make a diving catch on a Alejandro De Aza slicer to end the seventh. Hamilton also made a diving grab in right-center to rob A.J. Pierzynski to end the second.

"That's what we expect from Josh and that's why he's playing center field," Kinsler said. "If he approaches every game this season the way he did tonight and the way he has to open the season, he's going to have an incredible season."

Said Hamilton: "I always like the catches better. You're on the other end of the play watching it develop. The home runs just happen so fast."

Harrison retired the first seven White Sox batters and went relatively untested in the first three innings. But he had to strand runners in scoring position in each of his final three innings.

Gordon Beckham started the fourth with a double and was at third with one out, but Harrison speared a Paul Konerko grounder and caught Beckham too far off third base for the second out.

"That was the biggest key of the game," Harrison said. "I just kind of stuck my glove down there, and it went in."

Harrison then stranded Eduardo Escobar after a two-out triple in the fifth, and Konerko was left at second base when Harrison struck out Pierzynski to end the sixth. It was Harrison's third strikeout and his 103rd and final pitch. He allowed four hits and issued two walks, and felt like he did throughout the Cactus League schedule.

"It carried over tonight, definitely so," said Harrison, who went 14-9 with a 3.39 ERA last year. "I wish I could have gone a couple more innings, but they fouled a lot of pitches off early in the game. As long as I'm still throwing strikes and making them swing the bat, that's all I care about."

Mark Lowe, Robbie Ross and Koji Uehara worked an inning apiece to complete the shutout. But the heavy lifting had been done by the Rangers' best pitcher this spring.

"And it continued tonight," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "He's developing. He's really turning into a quality pitcher."

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST

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