Matt Harrison pledges to keep improving after contract extension with Rangers

ARLINGTON -- The town of Stem, N.C., boasted a population of 463 in the 2010 census but was just a one-stoplight town when Matt Harrison lived there.

"One flashing light," he said. "A liquor store and a post office. It was pretty much all dirt roads when I was there."

Stem also has a mayor, and surprisingly it's not Harrison. He's moved to Creedmore, on the other side of I-85 and with about 10 times the folks, but his roots are never far away.

And the five-year, $55 million deal that was announced Thursday won't change that.

Harrison pledged he won't rest on what he has done the past two seasons during which he is one of five American League pitchers with 32 victories.

He's one of the game's best lefties the past two years, but he wants to be one of the best pitchers in the game.

"I definitely don't think I'm there," said Harrison, whose deal includes an option year for 2018. "I want to continue to improve. I'm not content with where I'm at right now.

"I want to be one of the best pitchers. I want to continue to work as hard as I can in each aspect of the game, and I want to continue to learn."

The road to the contract, much like the roads in Stem, was a bumpy one. Harrison, now 27, had to learn on the fly at the big-league level, underwent surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome in 2009 and needed to find motivation to get better.

It came in the form of being banished to the bullpen in 2010 and being left off the Rangers' playoff roster.

Harrison said he needed to grow up, and he took to taking better care of his body and mind.

He's mentally tough and fit enough to log 399 innings the past two seasons. His best campaign to date is his most recent, going 18-11 with a 3.29 ERA over 213 1/3 innings in 2012.

The Rangers didn't want to see Harrison become a free agent in two seasons.

"We were always working toward the goal of getting a deal done, and both sides were very upfront about that," said assistant general manager Thad Levine, who handled the negotiations with Harrison's agent, Sam Levinson.

"Sam represented that Matt and [wife] Meghan very much want to be a part of this organization for the foreseeable future, and we expressed the same from the beginning."

Harrison said the decision to take free agency off the table wasn't an easy one after two successful seasons, but the chance to secure his family's future was too good to pass up.

"Coming from pretty much hardly anything growing up, I know how hard it was for my parents," Harrison said. "Now that I've signed this deal, it's sets up my family and my daughter for life. It's very humbling to be able to do that, and I won't take it lightly."

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST

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