Matt Harrison's night goes downhill after fast start
April, 1, 2013
By Todd Wills | ESPNDallas.com
HOUSTON -- The strikeouts piled up for Texas Rangers starter Matt Harrison in the season opener as both pitchers dominated opposing hitters early on.
Needing to match Houston's Bud Norris -- who was manhandling Rangers hitters -- Harrison was cruising along with six strikeouts through the first 12 batters he faced before the strange dimensions of Minute Maid Park and a young, aggressive Houston Astros team got the best of him.
AP Photo/Pat SullivanMatt Harrison tied a career-high with nine strikeouts against the Astros.
On an opening night where everything that went against the Rangers was surprising, it was Harrison who blinked first in the Rangers' 8-2 loss to the Astros in front of a sellout crowd and a national TV audience.
Harrison's first opening day start started with a blaze and slowly went downhill.
It started with one out in the fourth inning. Harrison got ahead of Astros first baseman Brett Wallace with with a cutter for a called strike and a curveball for a swinging strike. Wallace fouled off a cutter and then was able to reach a high fastball for a single up the middle. With two outs, Carlos Pena, who had fanned in his first at-bat, then beat a shift for another hit with the Rangers playing three infielders on the right side.
The inning got stranger from there as the Astros' No. 1 hero in this night, center fielder Justin Maxwell, lofted a fly ball into left field that appeared destined for David Murphy's glove. Only Murphy didn't get a chance to catch it because of Minute Maid's bandbox dimensions. He looked up as the baseball bounced off the scoreboard for a 314-foot triple to give Houston a 2-0 lead.
It was that kind of night for Harrison, who was great, then unlucky and then let walks get to him (more on that coming).
"It was just a matter of not executing the pitches, especially in the at-bats to Wallace and Pena," Harrison said. "They were being very aggressive, all the guys were. I felt if I just executed the pitches better, maybe farther down in the zone, I might have got some swings and misses or weaker contact. I just have to do a better job of executing pitches when I have to."
Walks and an error by right fielder Nelson Cruz put Harrison and the Rangers in a deeper hole. The Astros scored twice more in the fifth inning when Brandon Barnes, who had been way late on fastballs in the second inning, managed to walk with one out in the fifth. Ronny Cedeno, the Astros' No. 9 hitter, followed with a single to right that Cruz bobbled and then kicked away to allow Barnes to score. Jose Altuve followed with a single for a 4-0 lead.
Walks then did Harrison and the Rangers in after the offense had battled back -- his teammates pounded out all of six singles -- with two runs in the top of the sixth to make it a 4-2 game. Harrison walked Maxwell with one out and after getting Jason Castro to fly out, fell behind Matt Dominguez and walked him, forcing manager Ron Washington to go to the bullpen.
"One hundred pitches was as far he could go," Washington said of Harrison.
Derek Lowe came in and missed on a breaking ball to Rick Ankiel, who smacked a three-run home run to right field for a 7-2 Astros lead.
And Harrison's hopes for an opening day win were gone.
"They're a young, aggressive team," Washington said. "They played well tonight."
Harrison said he would spend Monday's off day with his family and try to put Sunday's start behind him.
"Just have to wipe it out of my mind and get ready for the next one," Harrison said.