Surprise position outlook: No. 2 starter

Editor's Note: Our look at the starting rotation continues today in our Surprise position outlook series.

Today's position: No. 2 starter

What made 2012 so important for left-handed starter Matt Harrison was that he built on 2011, when he finally showed what he could do over an entire season when healthy.

Harrison had multiple chances to stay in the Rangers' rotation in previous seasons and couldn't do it. But he showed staying power in 2011, pitching 185 2/3 innings and making 30 starts while finishing 14-9 with a 3.39 ERA. It was the most innings of his big league career. At least until 2012. Harrison won 18 games last year to lead the Rangers. He had a 3.29 ERA (similar, though slightly better than 2011) and made 32 starts, pitching 213 1/3 innings.

Harrison, 27, made his first All-Star team and showed that he could handle pressure starts and an increased workload. Harrison's mental game has improved the past two seasons as well, something he he has talked about. Some fans may forget that Harrison started Game 7 of that 2011 World Series and after the Rangers snagged a 2-0 lead in the top of the first, Harrison gave it back in the bottom of that same frame. He didn’t allow that rough postseason experience to bury him and bounced back with another solid season. Harrison was rewarded by the Rangers with a five-year, $55 million deal.

He’s become a smarter pitcher, understanding what he has to do to win games. He won’t overwhelm you with strikeouts, but he can throw hard and isn’t afraid to rely on his defense. Harrison doesn’t walk a ton of guys and has done a better job of not allowing a rough at-bat or inning to turn into a bad outing.

His focus now is on continuing to get more consistent. He said during the club’s Fan Fest earlier this month that he wants to work on his slider. It was his fourth pitch and one he wasn’t confident enough in to throw with any regularity. He’d like to have it to go back door to right-handed hitters and as a show-me pitch at times to lefties.

But Harrison’s season has him squarely in the top portion of the rotation. I’ve got him No. 2 behind Darvish and ahead of Derek Holland, who we’ll talk about Wednesday.

I don’t see any reason why Harrison won’t have another season with an ERA of 3.30 or so and can keep his team in games. Health will be the key, as it always is, but he’s managed to stay healthy for two straight seasons. He made the decision not to participate in the World Baseball Classic, in part because he understands he needs to have a regular spring training coming off his career-high in innings pitched.