After joining the Rangers organization as part of a trade deadline deal for Mark Teixeira, left-handed pitcher Matt Harrison was a bit of a mystery to Rangers fans.
The 22-year-old was sidelined by what was then believed to be shoulder problems. However, the Rangers later found out he actually had a version of turf toe, which was causing Harrison to put more stress on his left arm, leading to some shoulder tightness.
Harrison worked out at the Rangers' minor league complex in Arizona for the remainder of the regular season and then joined the Arizona Fall League's Surprise Rafters.
The 6-foot-5 southpaw has become league's best pitcher this fall, as he currently sports a 5-0 record with a 1.23 ERA in six starts. The former Braves prospect has been especially dominant over his last four starts, giving up no runs on just two hits in 15 innings.
Lone Star Dugout recently spoke with Harrison regarding his Fall League performance.
Jason Cole: You have had an extremely successful run in the Arizona Fall League over the last two months. What has been the key to your success?
Matt Harrison: Probably being able to work both sides of the zone. When I make a mistake, it's not over the plate. Another thing is being able to use my slider. It has gotten a lot better since I started throwing it this year. I have been able to use it on lefties – to have an out pitch against lefties. I think that's the biggest thing that has helped me.
Cole: I know you worked on the slider in bullpen sessions while you were rehabbing in Surprise, but how much better has it gotten from the last time you used it in the regular season?
Harrison: I don't think the quality of it has gotten better. I think I've just been able to command it a little better. I'm able to throw it where I want to a little bit more. If I get a guy to swing at one, I'll try to throw it a little bit further outside the next time to see if they'll chase it again.
Cole: You had a foot problem that led to some shoulder tightness. Have you felt any problems with that during the Fall League season?
Harrison: No. I didn't really do any rehabbing of my shoulder. They said it was just tight from when I was overcompensating because of my foot injury. I haven't had any problems with my shoulder.
Cole: You pitched well during your first two outings in the Fall League, but you weren't quite as sharp as you've been lately. Did you feel you were a little bit rusty early on?
Harrison: Yeah, I think almost two months of not being in a game killed me. It's hard to come back and get comfortable after that long. But I kind of got back into a groove after those first couple of games.
Cole: Are you throwing your curveball as much to left-handers now that you have your slider or have you changed that?
Harrison: The curveball I probably just use to get me over, to get a strike. If it's a 0-0 count, I'll throw it in there and hope that they're not swinging first pitch. I'm just getting over with the curveball and I'll use the slider if I get ahead in the count. I don't really throw that many curveballs anymore since I've started throwing the slider.
Cole: Have you worked on anything mechanically in the Fall League?
Harrison: I went from just straight turning and throwing – I was bringing my hands over my head at one time – but now it's like a slight step forward and a turn. I get my foot angled on the rubber to generate more power towards the plate. That's about the only thing I've changed.
Cole: Is that something you started once you joined the Rangers organization or were you doing that before?
Harrison: I just started doing it when I got over here with the Rangers.
Cole: Is there something the Rangers felt those changes would improve in your game?
Harrison: They wanted to help me get my lower half more into it. They said I was using my top half a little too much, so they were going to get my legs more into it.
Cole: Now that your Fall League season is beginning to come to a close, what are you planning on doing over the offseason to stay in shape?
Harrison: I'll probably just continue on through after this. I'll take a couple weeks off from throwing and then get back into it throwing and get my body back in shape for next year. Just basically doing the same thing I've been doing in past offseasons even though this is a little bit shorter. Just try to stay in shape.
Cole: Have the Rangers given you any idea as to where you will begin the 2008 season?
Harrison: I haven't talked to any of the Rangers guys about that yet. But hopefully I'll start off in Triple-A. I'm just going to go out and try to do the same thing I've been doing down here and bring that into spring training. Hopefully things turn out pretty good.
Harrison credits slider for success
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