Harden, Strike Three; Rangers Need to Move On
I sat down with my laptop this morning to write my weekly article. I was all ready to give you some kind of timeline recap of the whole bankruptcy sale / fiasco or the bright future that Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan bring. But everything in my head really didn't flow well, so I decided to wait until today's game in Oakland for something to inspire me. Thank you Rich Harden for that. (As a write this he just got out of the first, giving up three walks, two runs, and only one infield hit).
But that's not a good thank you in terms of Harden and what he is doing and has done this season for the Rangers.
I do credit GM Jon Daniels and his staff for taking a chance on Harden this offseason. He had a solid few years with the Oakland A's, and a very productive 2nd half of the season for the Chicago Cubs last year. Harden has had injury issues his whole career but when healthy, he has been dynomite on the mound.
So even with the Spring Training struggles that lead into problems throwing strikes in April, there was still hope for Harden (who just walked Daric Barton a second time here in the second inning).
On May 3rd, there were some signs of hope in a start in Oakland against his former team. Harden went 7 innings, allowed only 2 hits, 0 walks, and struckout 9. But two starts later in Toronto it all fell apart again, 2.2 innings pitched, 7 earned runs, 4 hits (2 home runs), and 6 walks. In his 86 pitches, he could only throw 45 strikes. And over the next 5 starts he went 1-2, 26.2 innings pitched, 20 earned runs, 33 hits, 22 strikeouts, and 12 more walks. Cliff Lee pitches 26.2 innings in three starts, seriously! It finally came to a hault with a trip to the DL after his June 11th loss in Milwaukee. Remember that, Texas won 11 straight after that.
DL trip and rehab was for a strained glut, which means he pulled a muscle in his butt, but I can think of another word that would be very fitting here. (Meanwhile Harden just walked his fifth batter with only seven outs.) His time in rehab would be just as much a roller coaster as his Major League starts, some starts that were masterful, and more than were full of walks. (Here come Wash, so Harden goes only 2.1 IP, 3 earned runs, only 2 hits, 2 strikeouts, and 5 walks).
Finally on July 31st, he returned to the rotation in a "HUGE" series in Anaheim against the second-place Angels. Following a masterful performance by Ranger ace-Lee, Harden went seven innings, allowed one run (solo home run), five hits, and only two walks to pick up his 4th win of the season. Maybe the time off and the AAA starts is what he needed to get back on track.
Then came today! Seriously, 2.1 innings, 3 earned runs on only 2 hits and with the 5 walks he allowed the same number base-runners as outs he recorded.
Ok, before you call me out for overreacting, hear me out. I do know that this is only his second start off the DL. It could be a fluke, and a healthy, strike-throwing Harden would be huge for the Rangers to make a run for game #163 and beyond.
This is not a knee-jerk reaction. The writing is on the wall to say that his start in Anaheim was the fluke. Even manager Ron Washington said in a mid-game analysis, "He just couldn't control the baseball." Plus the Rangers have decent replacements for Harden.
One, Scott Feldman, took over for Harden in today's game. Feldman too has had his struggles during the season, but I would much rather have Feldman's problem of getting hit and hit hard, than Harden's walks.
Two, Derek Holland is healthy and starting at Triple-A. Holland left the Rangers and went to the DL back at the end of May, first with shoulder inflammation, and then while rehabbing he dislocated his knee. Before that he made 3 starts, going 2-0, throwing 17.1 innings, five earned runs, 14 hits, 15 strikeouts, and only three walks. Since returning Holland has had a strong outing and an iffy outing in the minors.
But there are two things evident in those two starts. Holland throws strikes no matter what and he is on the exact same rotation schedule as Harden. Seriously, Holland starts tonight for Oklahoma City against Salt Lake City.
So to wrap this up, the Rangers took a chance with Harden, a calculated chance that was worth taking. Now with the team focusing on the final third of the season though, and completing a run to win the AL West, it's time to start the pitchers that give the team the best chance to win now.
My vote is Holland, no doubt. I like Feldman, but I think a return to the bullpen, long reliefs and spot starts are more likely the direction his career is heading. Holland is a front of the rotation starter of the future, so let's get him up there to throw strikes, to continue his Major League developing, and, like the other pitchers, to learn from Cliff Lee.