Spring training preview: No. 3 starter

Note: Spring training will arrive before you know it. To get you ready, we'll take a look at every position between now and February, when pitchers and catchers report to Surprise, Ariz.

Today's position: No. 3 starter

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Things were going so well for Matt Harrison as spring training began last year. He was coming off a second consecutive solid season and had a new contract to show for it. Texas signed Harrison to a five-year, $55 million deal prior to the 2013 season. Harrison had earned it by posting back-to-back healthy seasons. Over 2011 and 2012, Harrison had a 3.34 ERA and was 32-20 and he pitched 399 innings.

Harrison, thanks to 18 wins in 2012, got the Opening Day start in 2013 in Houston on national TV. He would make just one more start all season. Neither of the starts went well. Harrison gave up five runs on six hits in 5 2/3 innings in the season-opening loss to Houston. He then surrendered five runs on eight hits in five innings at home to the Los Angeles Angels. And he was out of the rotation after that because of back pain. But two injections weren't enough to fix the problem and Harrison had surgery to repair a herniated disk.

Harrison needed a second surgery and tried to return in September, but he felt numbness in his throwing hand during a rehab assignment and had surgery to repair Thoracic Outlet Syndrome in his non-throwing shoulder, ending his season.

The surgeries are done and Harrison is confident he'll be ready for the 2014 season. He admitted that he feels like forever since he pitched in a meaningful game and can't wait to get going in Arizona next month.

"I’ve been working out since October," Harrison said Tuesday. "I’m at the point where I’m tired of working out and want meaning behind it. I’m ready to go, but I have to understand I’m coming off injuries and have to go about it the right way."

Harrison threw a bullpen session earlier in the week and impressed pitching coach Mike Maddux, who said Harrison looked free and loose with no signs of the back hindering him at all. Harrison said his control, obviously, wasn't where he wanted it, but he's confident that will come.

The right-hander said he's lost 20 pounds, dropping him to around 250. He was up as high as 270 after the surgeries. Harrison wants to bounce back and do what he did in 2011 and 2012.

"The previous years have shown me I can do it, it’s just a matter of getting out there and doing the same thing," Harrison said. "I want to prove to them that I’m healthy and be honest with them that I’m ready to go, but I don’t think I need to prove I can pitch at this level because I've done that. I just hope my body reacts the same way."

OUTLOOK: One of the big questions in spring training this season (and we'll get to those questions in the coming weeks, by the way) is how quickly Harrison can return to form. He was as reliable as they come in 2011 and 2012, and that's the pitcher the Rangers gave the long-term deal to keep. Harrison is a competitor and has worked very hard on the mental part of the game. And in talking to him this offseason, he seems motivated and focused on doing what he did to earn that contract.

The Rangers need Harrison even more now with Derek Holland unlikely to return until midseason (although we learned with Harrison last year that timetables are merely guides). How this rotation does as a whole could depend on Harrison tipping the scales in the right direction.

Harrison says he won't feel any additional pressure because of Holland's injury and it's clear the front office and coaching staff want to be sure he doesn't rush things.

"If he’s healthy, we have a real high degree of confidence that he’s going to perform," general manager Jon Daniels said Tuesday. "We just want to be sure he doesn’t feel any additional pressure with what happened with Derek. I don’t want him to ramp it up any quicker or do more than he’s capable. He gave us 220-plus innings the year before last. Once he’s out there, I don’t want him to miss any more time than that."