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Rangers pitching staff in shambles

HOUSTON -- Matt Harrison kept glancing at the scoreboard above home plate Tuesday night, searching for confirmation he had enough velocity to compete in a major league game.

It never arrived.

"I looked up and I felt like I was throwing the ball a lot harder than 84 or 85 [mph]," Harrison said. "Something wasn't right. I just felt stiff."

Harrison left the game with back stiffness after 1 2/3 innings, and the Houston Astros thumped the Texas Rangers 8-0 at Minute Maid Park.

Harrison, who allowed four hits and three runs while walking three and striking out one, will be evaluated by back specialist Dr. Drew Dossett on Wednesday afternoon.

Understand, Harrison missed virtually all of last season after having surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back. He started the season on the disabled list after sleeping on a lumpy mattress in spring training and aggravating his back.

"It's on my lower back more on the left side than the right. It was affecting me driving through the baseball," Harrison said of Tuesday's trouble. "It felt like all arm. It was real stiff coming through the zone.

"I don't really know why it happened, what caused it or what I did wrong. Hopefully, I get good news tomorrow and go from there."

The Rangers need some good news pertaining to their pitching staff. It's in shambles.

When Nick Tepesch starts Wednesday's game, he'll become the ninth starter the Rangers have used this season. The Minnesota Twins are the only other team to use as many as nine starters.

In the past 15 games, Robbie Ross Jr. is the only starter not named Yu Darvish to pitch more than six innings -- and it's not like that was a gem. Ross allowed six hits and five runs in 6 2/3 innings in a game the Rangers lost.

Darvish, Colby Lewis and Harrison are the only starters Washington truly trusts. But Darvish is the only one not returning from a serious injury. Lewis (hip) and Harrison (back) have been trying to find a rhythm.

The Rangers have just 13 quality starts -- games where the starting pitcher last six innings, while allowing three or fewer runs. Only Tampa Bay and Baltimore (both with 12) have fewer.

Harrison is supposed to be a foundation of the rotation. It's the reason the Rangers signed him to a five-year deal worth $55 million in January 2013, a few months after he won 18 games.

Since then, he's 1-2 with a 5.79 ERA, 19 walks and 22 strikeouts. This from a dude who went 32-20 with a 3.34 ERA while making 62 starts in 2011 and 2012.

Harrison is a prideful man who wants nothing more than to take the ball every fifth day.

"Frustration to begin with and then thinking about what happened last year and all I went through to get back," said Harrison, explaining his emotions.

"I really don't want to have to go through that again. I'll find out definitely [Wednesday] what's going on and get my head wrapped around that. I really don't want to have that issue again. I'm just praying for that."

Harrison said he felt fine in the bullpen and in the first inning Tuesday, even though he walked two batters and needed a visit from pitching coach Mike Maddux just three batters into the game. He threw 27 pitches but escaped without allowing a run.

In the second inning, Harrison gave up a single and a homer to the first two batters he faced.

After getting two outs, he allowed a double, a walk and a single to Dexter Fowler that drove in a run and brought Maddux, manager Ron Washington and the club's trainer to the mound

"My velocity was going down further and further. I knew at that point something wasn't right," Harrison said. "When he [Maddux] came out the second time, I said this is a good time to get it figured out and see what's going on.

"In the first inning, I was OK. My command was just a little off, but I wasn't really stiff. In the second inning, I was overly stiff and got stiffer and stiffer."

Washington said Harrison didn't look right from his view in the dugout, because he kept standing straight up as though trying to get his back loose.

"Something like that comes out of nowhere and just hits you," Harrison said. "It's not really just one thing that I felt differently. Last year it got progressively worse, but I don't remember the one thing that caused it."

The Rangers will be in fourth place in the AL West, five games behind the Oakland Athletics, when they arrive at the Astros' ballpark Wednesday.

They need some good news concerning Harrison's back in the worst way.