Matt Harrison came to the Rangers organization last trade deadline when the Rangers shipped Mark Teixeira to the Braves in exchange for a handful of prospects.
A number of questions were raised about Harrison's health at the time of the trade, largely because he was dealing with a sore shoulder. It was later learned that Harrison's shoulder issues were actually coming from a foot injury that was causing him to put extra stress on his left shoulder.
The Rangers chose to sideline the North Carolina native for the rest of the season, having him work out at the club's minor league complex in Arizona.
It wasn't until April 3 – this season's minor league opening day – that Harrison made his official debut as a Rangers prospect. The southpaw was impressive, giving up just one run in 5 2/3 innings.
But Harrison wasn't as strong in his second and third outings. He allowed seven runs on 13 hits in only 9.2 innings while throwing a combined 174 pitches.
"I think it was the inconsistency of getting behind in the count and getting into fastball counts," said Harrison on his last two starts. "When you do that, you're just giving hitters the advantage. I think that was the biggest thing in those last two innings."
While preparing for the 2008 season, Harrison spent a lot of time around the big league club. The Rangers invited Harrison to spring training as a non-roster invitee. He appeared in three games, making two starts. Harrison, who gave up four earned runs in 6 1/3 big league innings, wasn't completely satisfied with his performance.
"I think I did alright," he said. "It could have been better. It was kind of like the same thing with the last two games – being inconsistent with my fastball and not getting ahead. I think that caused me to struggle a little bit in spring training too."
Because he pitched in Atlanta's minor league system, he got some at-bats over the last few seasons. Harrison got another one during spring training, when the Rangers chose not to use the DH in a game against the Padres. Harrison had the opportunity to face legendary closer Trevor Hoffman. The hurler took the count full before striking out. Harrison watched all six pitches.
"I was told not to swing," said Harrison, with a laugh. "I would have been fined had I swung. I hit last year a little bit, but I knew I wouldn't be able to swing when I got up there. It was pretty fun facing Trevor Hoffman, a Hall of Famer."
Despite the fact that Harrison is left-handed, he had actually struggled to retire left-handed hitters before last season. The 22-year-old used a curveball as his out-pitch against lefties in the past, but he began going to a slider last season. Harrison says he still throws the curve occasionally, but his main focus is currently on the slider.
"It's kind of half-and-half now," replied Harrison when asked if he still uses a curveball. "Mostly I use my slider on lefties because I needed an out-pitch against lefties. I couldn't throw my curveball down in the dirt the way I wanted to so I started using the slider. I think it has helped out a lot."
The numbers back up Harrison's word. Lefties batted .346 off him with Double-A Mississippi in 2006, but they were just 7-for-39 [.179] against him in the Arizona Fall League this past offseason. The fall league was the first time Harrison had really focused on his slider.
"I'm working on the location of [the slider]," he said. "I'm trying to start it over the plate and let it break off the plate when I'm facing lefties. I don't really throw it to righties that much – very rarely."
Harrison looking to locate
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