Updated: September 18, 2008, 12:31 PM ET

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AP Photo/Al Behrman

Aaron Harang is a far better pitcher than his 5-16 record would suggest.

Harang finally turning things around
Aaron Harang was expected to be the Reds' ace this season, but until recently, his 2008 has been a disaster. Harang threw a shutout against the Cardinals on Wednesday for just his fifth win of the year. Has the 30-year old right-hander turned his season around now? What were the reasons behind his struggles?

Harang scattered six hits while striking out four and walking none. It was his second consecutive start, and third in the past six, in which he didn't allow an earned run.

Coming into this season, Harang looked like a pitcher poised for further growth. Virtually all of his skill indicators were trending positively, and at age 30 he hadn't yet flattened out in any area.

Year IP ERA WHIP BB/9 K/9 HR/9 GB %
2003 76.1 5.32 1.42 2.20 5.00 1.31 42
2004 161 4.86 1.43 2.96 6.99 1.45 42
2005 211.2 3.84 1.27 2.17 6.93 0.94 39
2006 234.1 3.76 1.27 2.15 8.30 1.08 39
2007 231.2 3.73 1.14 2.02 8.47 1.09 40
2008 172.1 4.70 1.36 2.45 7.57 1.57 33

Note the improvement in Harang's strikeout-to-walk ratio in the season since he joined the Reds until now. Correspondingly, his ERA dropped each year as well.

While Harang's walks have been slightly up and his strikeouts down this year, the indicators that stand out in 2008 are his home-run rate and ground-ball percentage. Harang has allowed more fly balls this season, and due to an inflated 14 percent home run/fly ball ratio, more of those flies have left the yard.

The home run/fly ball ratio likely will correct itself next season, settling in closer to Harang's norm of 10 percent. Still, Harang appears to be inducing fewer grounders, and more flies usually means more homers.

Harang posted a 2.98 ERA for March and April, then went into the tank in May and June. He ended up missing nearly all of July with a forearm strain, and it's quite likely that the injury affected him before he went on the disabled list. When Harang returned, he was battered for eight earned runs twice, in back-to-back outings.

Since those two eight-run bombings? In six starts spanning 42 innings, Harang has allowed 34 hits, nine earned runs and nine walks to accompany 30 strikeouts. Those are good numbers, with the only caveat being his five home runs allowed during that span.

Since those first two starts after returning from injury, Harang is pitching like an ace again. His fly-balling ways are indeed a slight cause for concern, and owners should temper their 2009 ERA expectations just a touch. However, Harang otherwise appears to be back in form. There's little reason to believe that he won't be close to the same pitcher in 2009 that he was in 2006 and 2007, and he's certainly throwing well this September.

Past editions: 9/17: Haren rebounds | 9/16: Sluggin' Shoppach | 9/15: Z's no-no

Box Score Bits
Reds third baseman Edwin Encarnacion was scratched with a sore wrist Wednesday. He's day-to-day. ... Livan Hernandez combined with four relievers on a Coors Field shutout of the light-hitting Padres. Rockies first baseman Joe Koshansky provided all the offense in the 1-0 win with a fourth-inning solo home run. San Diego's Brian Giles has reached base in 26 of the past 27 games. ... Adam LaRoche blasted two home runs -- including a grand slam -- off Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley, who allowed seven runs and failed to complete the fifth. Pirates starter Zach Duke was also hit hard in the 15-8 Pittsburgh win. ... Philadelphia left-hander J.A. Happ shut out the Braves as part of the Phillies' 6-1 win. Atlanta second baseman Kelly Johnson extended his hitting streak to 15 games, while Chipper Jones reached base for the 40th consecutive game. ... Luis Ayala notched his eighth save as the Mets held off Washington 9-7. Carlos Beltran had two of four New York home runs, while Elijah Dukes went deep for the Nats. Dukes has posted an OPS over 1.000 in each of the past three months, and is batting .309 BA/.398 OBP/.702 SLG in the second half! ... Hanley Ramirez went deep twice, then left the game with a shoulder strain. He's not expected to miss any further time. Top prospect Cameron Maybin made his Marlins debut, going 1-for-2 with an RBI and a run. Hunter Pence hit two home runs for Houston. Astros third baseman Ty Wigginton returned to action, going 0-for-4. He had been really raking in late August and September before missing 10 games with a groin strain. ... Milwaukee ace Ben Sheets left Wednesday's game after two innings with elbow soreness. Prince Fielder and the Brewers bullpen managed a 6-2 win over the Cubs anyway. Kosuke Fukudome was on the bench for the fifth straight game. He's hitting just .205/.294/.300 in the second half. ... Tony Pena picked up his third save despite allowing a run, closing out Diamondbacks ace Brandon Webb's 21st win. Shortstop Stephen Drew had four hits and Justin Upton launched his third home run in five games as Arizona bruised Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez for six earned runs. ... Cliff Lee failed to get his 23rd win after he couldn't hold a two-run lead in the seventh. However, the Indians beat the Twins 6-4 with two runs in the bottom of the seventh, after Minnesota chased Lee from the game. Jensen Lewis notched his 10th save for the Tribe. ... Yankees right-hander Phil Hughes tossed four innings in his first start since April, but needed 89 pitched to get through the outing. Hughes missed most of the season with a fractured rib. ... Aubrey Huff hit his 32nd home run for Baltimore, but rookie Travis Snider drove in the go-ahead run for Toronto in a wild 8-7 win. Snider -- considered the Jays' top prospect -- looks major league ready, batting .341/.383/.568 in 44 at-bats so far. ... David Ortiz hit two home runs, but the Rays topped Boston 10-3 in Tampa. Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell was held out of action with a hip injury, while outfielder Jason Bay missed the game to attend the birth of his child. ... Kansas City closer Joakim Soria logged his 40th save as Gil Meche outdueled Seattle's Ryan Rowland-Smith. Ichiro Suzuki was 3-for-3, giving him 200 hits for the eighth straight season. ... Angels center fielder Torii Hunter was a scratch Wednesday after taking a ball to the face during batting practice. He's expected to play Thursday. Oakland outfielder Eric Patterson left the 3-2 A's win in the fifth inning with a hamstring strain. ... Freddy Garcia, making his first appearance since June 8, 2007, got the win for the Tigers, as he allowed just one unearned run and two hits over innings against the Rangers. Garcia got plenty of help from the offense, which scored nine runs in the fifth en route to a 17-4 victory.


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Standing Out
MIGHTY MIGGY
Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
He went 4-for-5 with a homer and three RBIs in the 17-4 thrashing of the Rangers. Cabrera tied his career-high with his 34th homer and set a career-best with 121 RBIs. However, his .296 average is still off his career .310 mark.

UNHAPPY RETURN
Brandon Backe, Astros
He hadn't pitched since Sept. 2 because of a forearm strain, but his first start back was something to forget as he allowed five runs and six hits, including two homers, in just 1 2/3 innings.
News and Notes

New Milwaukee manager Dale Sveum has replaced Manny Parra in the rotation with Dave Bush, who will pitch for the Brewers on Thursday on three days' rest. Sveum says that the entire rotation may be on short rest the next time out due to the loss of Ben Sheets. ... Injured White Sox outfielder Carlos Quentin had his cast removed Wednesday and has been cleared to begin swinging a bat. ... The Blue Jays have scheduled MRIs on Thursday for both Shaun Marcum, who left his Tuesday start with forearm tightness, and Rod Barajas, who has missed four games behind the plate with a hamstring injury. ... Baltimore right-hander Daniel Cabrera will miss his next start and see a specialist after experiencing elbow pain in a side session. ... Mariners starter Erik Bedard has scheduled exploratory surgery for later this month. ... Injured A's starter Justin Duchscherer will throw a brief simulated game Thursday. He's a candidate to start against Seattle on Saturday. ... Angels third baseman Chone Figgins will return to Los Angeles to have his elbow examined by Dr. Lewis Yocum.
They Wrote It

"The demarcation line between the dependable [Aaron] Harang and the awful version came during an 18-inning game at Petco Park on May 25, when Reds manager Dusty Baker summoned Harang out of desperation for 63 pitches and four innings of shutout relief. Three days later, Harang started on short rest and was shelled by Pittsburgh. In this case, Baker's managerial strategy was crying out for an intervention. Even though Harang went down for a month with a strained forearm, he refused to use the injury as an excuse. But it helps explain his wavering command and all those hanging sliders."

-- Jerry Crasnick Starting 9


"And as disappointing as this series might have been to the champs, the Red Sox know now they're going to be in [the playoffs]. They're seven games up in the wild-card race with a week and a half to play. But once they get in, they just might have a rocky road ahead of them. They went 1-8 this year against their likely first-round opponent, the Angels. And if they survive that round, they could be looking at another trip to Tampa Bay -- where they lost eight out of nine this season. And that's not because of catwalks or cowbells, either. That's because the team that plays there is for real, whether America has caught onto that yet or not."

-- Jayson Stark Full story


"What follows is pure speculation, and nothing more: If Brian Cashman leaves the Yankees as general manager, the perfect person to replace him would be Brewers GM Doug Melvin, who once worked for the Yankees, and who has the kind of personality to deal with the pressure of working in New York. The only way this could happen, of course, would be if, for one reason or another -- maybe if the Brewers don't make the playoffs -- Milwaukee owner Mark Attanasio would want to change general managers. As we've seen this week, Attanasio is not averse to changes."

-- Buster Olney Full story

Transactions

• The A's recalled outfielders Carlos Gonzalez and Chris Denorfia. On Tuesday, both played in Pacific Coast League champion Sacramento's victory over International League champ Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in the Bricktown Showdown for the overall Triple-A championship. Both players will compete for 2009 spots in the crowded Oakland outfield.