No panic despite Harrison's slow start

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Five games into the season, no one with the Rangers is panicking about Matt Harrison's rough opening week.

Two starts, two losses. The Rangers' only two losses.

With Harrison's 34 wins the past two seasons, including 18 to lead the team in 2012, the law of averages with baseball say Harrison will be fine. No panic here. Not after the Rangers fell to the Los Angeles Angels 8-4 on Saturday afternoon in a game that saw Harrison allow eight hits, two of them home runs in the first inning.

"There's no level of concern," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "He misfired some pitches, and they didn't miss."

Harrison was more frustrated than worried after lasting only five innings. His downfall was giving up four runs in the top of the first on two-run home runs by Albert Pujols, a Ranger killer from the past, and Mark Trumbo, a hitter who's not going to miss a sinker if its left up in the strike zone.

That's what basically bit Harrison in the opening frame, he said. Not the velocity that seemed slightly down Saturday, at least according to the ballpark readings.

"It's definitely frustrating," Harrison said. "It happened the first inning today unlike the other day. Any time you give up that many runs in any inning, it's frustrating."

Harrison, the Rangers' Opening Day starter, has been beaten by the lowly Astros and the arch-enemy Angels this week.

He retired the first nine batters he faced in Houston. Since then, he's allowed a hit in eight straight innings. Opponents are batting .412 against him.

He has allowed five earned runs in each of his starts. He hasn't made it past the sixth inning either time. It's early but not what the Rangers anticipated when they rewarded him with the Opening Day assignment instead of Yu Darvish.

Walks hurt Harrison against Houston. The first-inning bug, one that Harrison had to cure a few years ago -- and did -- got him against the Angels.

A two-strike hit with one out in the top of the first by Angels shortstop Erick Aybar stopped momentum after Mike Trout grounded out to start the game. Harrison, who had been in the 88-89 mph range to Trout, Aybar and on the first two pitches to Pujols, finally hit 91 mph on a fastball on his next offering. But it didn't sink, and Pujols crushed it for his first home run of the season.

Harrison then walked Josh Hamilton -- which is almost impossible this weekend -- and Trumbo lined a home run over the right-field fence for a 4-0 lead. Another sinker that didn't sink.

"Any ball I left up was either leaving the ballpark or about to," Harrison said. "I didn't keep enough of them down in the first inning and put us in a big hole to start the game. I tried to do damage control from there and had to throw a lot of pitches to do so. It was a bad outing. Very bad."

Harrison gave up another run in the second inning to increase his team's deficit to 5-0. Even though he finished with three scoreless innings, the damage was done.

But it's not a question of a dead arm, Harrison said, something that closer Joe Nathan talked about dealing with on Friday. It's just baseball.

"He's ready to go," Washington said of Harrison. "There's no excuse. You take back a few pitches [on which] he didn't hit his spots, and maybe it's a different ballgame. They came out and jumped on him."

While Harrison tries to get on track, the Rangers try to get off of their four runs per game average. They hit three home runs -- Ian Kinsler and Mitch Moreland in the third inning and Nelson Cruz in the eighth inning.

But with the game in a lull and the Angels leading 5-2, the Rangers twice got the leadoff man on base in the fourth and fifth innings, and they didn't score.

In fact, the most interesting thing of note in the two innings came when rookie center fielder Leonys Martin didn't like a strike call from plate umpire Wally Bell. Washington came running out to protect his young player.

"I understand I'm fairly new around here," Martin said. "I was just in disagreement with him. I'm just trying to do my job and help the team."

There was some fun for Rangers fans, even in a game in which the Rangers never got closer than three runs. Three times Washington called for an intentional walk with Pujols batting and first base open, pitching around one slugger to face another, the slumping Hamilton.

The Rangers have the scouting report on pitching to Hamilton -- no fastballs with everything in the dirt. After all, they saw him swing at everything as their season collapsed last season.

Hamilton is one for 20 with eight strikeouts for the season after another zero for four. Pujols hit home runs both times the Rangers pitched to him (he also had one in the sixth inning off Jason Frasor).

The Rangers might not mess with this in September. Watching Hamilton at the plate on a weekend when he's been frustrated by just about everything, why not?

Hamilton struck out twice against Harrison, delighting the Rangers' fans. As they chanted "baseball town" the third time -- because of Hamilton's offseason dig at Ranger fans -- he flew out to left field.

"Hamilton isn't swinging the bat well," Washington said. "We had some left-handers out there. We just went for the matchup. Each time we didn't walk [Pujols], you saw what happened."

Even Hamilton, who has spoken the truth and nothing but the truth since he came back to Arlington on Friday, said it was the right move.

“It was a smart move,” Hamilton said. “Albert dominated today obviously. If I was in that situation, I’d do the same thing."