Relative to the last time through the rotation, Matt Harrison rates as the Texas Rangers’ No. 2 starter after his return to the mound Wednesday night.
In reality, the six runs he allowed in four-plus innings were a disappointment to him and didn’t put an end to the Rangers’ losing ways, which extended to five straight games with a 7-4 loss to Arizona.
But he got more bigleague hitters out than reached against him, undone only by an inability to get off the field in the second inning after getting two outs. He was bigleague mad when pulled after only three pitches in the fifth inning.
He forgot his story, an unprecedented comeback from spinal fusion surgery. He was a big-league pitcher again, and he’s ready to do it again.
“I’m going to keep grinding,” Harrison said. “It was definitely fun to be back out there and competing with these guys. I didn’t know if it was going to happen, but today I was out there. I’ve got to be better, a lot better than I was tonight.”
Harrison allowed six runs on six hits in four-plus innings in his first start since May 13, 2014. He was lifted after allowing an A.J. Pollock single to start the fifth, and Pollock scored on a two-run homer by Welington Castillo off long man Anthony Bass.
The Rangers were still in the game through four innings, and wasted scoring chances in the second and fourth innings against Jeremy Hellickson that could easily have pulled them even. They missed them throughout, going 1 for 15 with runners in scoring position.
As a results, they ended up losing their eighth straight game at Globe Life Park.
Harrison worked scoreless innings in the first, third and fourth with a fastball that topped out at only 87 mph, but it was effective enough when he hit his spots. His off-speed pitches resulted in some weak contact.
But, as was the case in his six rehab starts, Harrison was bitten early, and the Diamondbacks got him in the second.
Harrison got Castillo to start the inning and was squeezed by plate ump Alan Porter in walking David Peralta before Aaron Hill flied to right field for the second out.
The next four batters reached, with Pollock, a National League All-Star, delivering a three-run homer to cap a rally that turned a scoreless game into a 5-0 Arizona lead.
“The second inning is what killed me,” Harrison said. “I just didn’t make the pitches when I needed to. I left some off-speed pitches up in the zone, and they made me pay for it.”
Harrison’s teammates and coaches were thrilled to see him back on the mound some 13 months removed from having his L5-S1 vertebrae fused by Dr. Drew Dossett. Harrison also had two operations in 2013 to fix a herniated disk and another for thoracic outlet syndrome.
The start Wednesday, on the seven-year anniversary of his major league debut, was only his seventh since 2013 after an All-Star campaign in 2012 that resulted in the Rangers giving him a five-year, $55 million contract extension.
Fellow injured lefty Derek Holland took to social media to praise Harrison for his efforts, and manager Jeff Banister sensed that everyone on the team wanted to be there for Harrison.
“It was amazing,” shortstop Elvis Andrus said. “Whatever happened today, I was really happy. For everything he’s been through in his career, for him to step out there and battle, that was really a great thing to see.”
Harrison won’t start again before the All-Star break, and the Rangers haven’t announced their pitching plans to start the second half. Martin Perez will be back. Nick Martinez is under the impression that he will be back, too.
With Yovani Gallardo, Colby Lewis and Wandy Rodriguez, that makes six pitchers for five rotation spots.
The Rangers open the second half in the hitter paradises in Houston and Colorado before three games in Anaheim.
“We’re going to hold off on that for a couple more days,” Banister said.
If it’s up to Harrison, he’ll be in the rotation. As of Wednesday, he’s a big league pitcher again.
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760