The Improbable Return Of Texas Rangers’ Starting Pitcher Matt Harrison


In January of 2013, Matt Harrison signed a five-year $55 million contract extension with the Texas Rangers. But after cashing in on an impressive start to his major league career, Harrison has learned to take nothing for granted.

The man who started game 7 of the 2011 World Series and was an All-Star selection in 2012 suddenly found that his career might be over. The next two and a half years would test Harrison’s emotional and physical strength as well as his determination and his spirit.

More from Nolan Writin'

Harrison began the 2013 season with high hopes after a career year in 2012. However, he pitched only two games and his 8.44 earned run average signaled that something was wrong.

Harrison was diagnosed with a herniated disc in his back requiring two surgeries in the following two months. He would spend the remainder of the 2013 season on the disabled list.

However, Harrison entered spring training in 2014 fully expecting to be part of the Rangers’ big league rotation. But he made only four starts last season before another back injury required him to undergo lumbar spinal disc fusion surgery.

Spinal fusion surgery involves either placing screws and hardware in the back, adding a bone graft or fusing two vertebrae together to eliminate the movement in the injured joints. Considering that pitchers twist and wrench their back almost 100 times per game, it is easy to see why many people doubted that Harrison would ever pitch again.

However, Harrison was never deterred and today he will pitch in a major league game for the first time in 13 months. There is no known history of a big league pitcher ever returning from the procedure Harrison underwent last year.

"“I think success for me was getting back on the mound. … My biggest hurdle was getting back on the mound again,” Harrison told AP writer Stephen Hawkins. Link"

In the past month, Harrison made six minor league rehab starts putting up a 6.23 ERA in 34.2 innings. But what is most important is that Harrison’s back feels healthy and he is not focused on his injury but on the mental aspect of pitching.

"”I feel good physically and mechanically. Just ironing out everything is the hardest part, and learn how to pitch with less (velocity),” Harrison told Hawkins."

Indeed, Rangers’ fans should expect to see a different Matt Harrison. Prior to his injury, Harrison’s game revolved around a mid-90’s fastball.

But the new version of Matt Harrison throws his fastball in the high 80’s to low 90’s. However, being unable to rely on his fastball might make Harrison a better overall pitcher since he has focused on improving his off speed pitches, especially his changeup.

"“I’m confident in myself and command the strike zone, be aggressive and get people out.” Harrison said."

The Rangers have been working with a patchwork rotation in 2015 due to the loss of ace Yu Darvish to Tommy John surgery, No. 2 starter Derek Holland to shoulder soreness, and promising young starter Martin Perez to Tommy John surgery in the middle of the 2014 season. While the rotation has been surprisingly effective for most of the year, it has recently begun to fall apart.

In this past weekend’s sweep at the hands of division rivals the Los Angeles Angels, the Rangers allowed a total of 33 runs. The three starters (Chi Chi Gonzalez, Wandy Rodriguez and Colby Lewis) gave up 21 runs combined in the series.

More from Texas Rangers News

Harrison does not need to be, nor should fans expect him to be the second coming of Cy Young. He simply needs to eat up at least six innings while keeping his team in the game.

The most important element for Harrison to master may be getting back into a routine of pitching every fifth game. But, Harrison will make only one start (tonight) before the All-Star break meaning that the next game he might pitch would be no earlier than Friday, July 17th in Houston.

The trade deadline of July 31st is quickly approaching and the next three weeks will likely determine what route Rangers’ general manager Jon Daniels will take. If Harrison can contribute to an effective rotation and the Rangers can make up some ground in their six remaining July games against the Astros and Angles (3 at Houston and 3 at Los Angeles) then Texas might make moves to improve their 2015 playoff chances.

However, if the Rangers continue to languish around the .500 mark, the remainder of 2015 could be focused on developing or rehabilitating players like Harrison, Perez and Holland in preparation for 2016. But no matter how the rest of the season plays out, for Matt Harrison, 2015 will be a success if he can simply pitch effectively every fifth game.

As for the team’s expectations for Harrison, Ranger’s manager Jeff Banister told the Dallas Morning News, “We’re about to see a guy who is getting ready to come back from something that maybe nobody ever has before,” manager Jeff Banister said. “I just want to see him compete to the highest level that he is capable.” Link

Next: Texas Rangers Trade Targets: Starting Rotation