Matt Harrison overcomes first inning struggles

SEATTLE -- Texas Rangers starter Matt Harrison knew he was off in the first inning, but he kept his cool. Coupled with some great defensive plays, Harrison was able cruise from then on to collect his second win this month, a 3-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners.

Harrison ran into trouble early on after allowing his only two walks of the game. Alex Liddi got a free pass after a nine-pitch at-bat in the first and scored three batters later on a single by former Ranger Justin Smoak. Harrison followed that with an eight-pitch walk to load the bases with two outs, which brought pitching coach Mike Maddux out to the mound.

It took a one pitch, a 404-foot flyout from Casper Wells, to get Harrison out of the jam. Josh Hamilton made a leaping catch into the center field wall.

“I don’t what kind of catch he made, but he was able to run it down,” said Harrison, who threw 35 pitches in the first. “He’s an outstanding defensive player. It was great play to get me out of a jam. It could’ve been either way.”

Harrison said he thought he was overthrowing a bit during the inning, so he backed up on his fastball. He said it helped with his command and allowed him to settle in.

“I felt really good coming into the game,” Harrison said. “I felt like my arm felt the best today as it has all season.”

His defense was able to lend a helping hand. Harrison induced a double-play ball in the second to erase a leadoff single by Michael Saunders. And Hamilton made another leaping grab in the third, robbing Liddi of an extra base hit.

“He kept them in the big part of the field,” manger Ron Washington said. “It says 405 out there [in center field], but it plays like 445.”

Harrison said he had his best changeup of the season and was also able to work his curveball for strikes. Even with his first-inning struggles, Harrison was able to throw 75 of his 114 pitches for strikes and finished with six strikeouts.

“I thought he did a tremendous job after that first inning,” Washington said. “They fought him in that first inning pretty good and got his pitch count up. Then after that, he began to pound the strike zone.”

Washington left Harrison in the game in the eighth after he struck out Dustin Ackley to end the seventh, but Harrison gave up back-to-back singles to start the inning. Washington pulled Harrison with no outs, but Mike Adams came on and was able to leave Liddi and Ichiro Suzuki stranded on the bags.

“I had no doubt when I sent him out there and I had no doubt when I went and got him,” Washington said. “I felt good when I sent him out there. He was throwing the ball really good. It just didn’t work out.”

Washington will certainly take a one-run pitching performance, especially considering how it started and how Harrison's last two starts finished. Harrison lost his last two decisions before Tuesday’s game, allowing seven earned runs in 11 1/3 innings to the Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Angels.

“I hope he understands what it takes to go deep in the ballgame,” Washington said. “That’s to make the opponents swing the bats and make that good defense behind you play.”