A healthy pitcher was hard to come by for the Texas Rangers in 2013.

Eleven different pitchers started at least two games for the club last season.  Only Yu Darvish and Derek Holland started more than 30, and Martin Perez was the only other hurler to hit the 20-game mark.

That is why Matt Harrison will be the key for the Texas Rangers’ success this season.

Harrison is coming off of multiple back surgeries that limited him to just two starts last year. He has been throwing and completed a bullpen session of 44 pitches on Feb. 16. He is expected to be ready to go by Feb. 28, which marks Texas’ first spring training game.

The 28-year-old will most likely be the third or fourth starter in the rotation. Darvish, Perez and maybe Alexi Ogando well precede him, depending on whether or not manager Ron Washington wants to split his southpaws. 

It’s odd to think that a guy who won 18 games in 2012 and was the 2013 Opening Day starter is in the middle to back end of the rotation. What makes it good is it shows how strong the team’s starting pitching has become.

Harrison didn’t pitch well in his two starts last year. He gave up 10 earned runs in 10.2 innings, walking seven and giving up 11 hits. He did strike out 12 batters, but nine came against the Houston Astros, who broke the major league record for most strikeouts in a single season.

Was it the back pain he complained of after his second start that caused him to pitch poorly?

It is a good question. No matter what the answer is, the Rangers missed Harrison immensely during the course of 2013. If he was around, this team wouldn’t have had to play 163 games to try to reach the playoffs.

When it was declared that Harrison needed surgery, Washington struggled to find a permanent replacement.

Once you get past Darvish, Holland, Perez and Ogando, not a single Texas starter had a winning record last season. That includes Matt Garza, whom Texas traded half the farm system (to the Chicago Cubs) to acquire.

The offense was also a large component of the team’s failure to reach the playoffs in 2013. But even when it was scoring runs, starters who were not on the Opening Day roster had a hard time keeping opponents from rounding the bases, except Perez of course.

Again, once you go past Darvish, Holland, Perez and Ogando, the struggle to find a reliable starter is clear. Those were the only four Rangers starters to have an ERA under 4.00 in 2013.

That is what makes Harrison so valuable to the Rangers this upcoming season. He pitched at least 185 innings the past two seasons after moving from the bullpen to the rotation in 2011.

He may not strike out a lot of guys and gives up quite a few hits; however, the difference between him and his replacements was his ERA. In 2011, it was 3.39 and slightly improved to 3.29 in 2012. Although he has given up an average of 9.4 hits per nine innings over the course of his career, he has been able to limit damage and get out of tough situations.

Player Games Started ERA Quality Starts
Justin Grimm 17 6.37 6
Nick Tepesch 17 4.84 4
Matt Garza 13 4.38 4
Josh Lindblom 5 5.46 1
Travis Blackley 3 4.70 1
Ross Wolf 3 4.15 1

To put that in perspective, he has a quality start percentage of 64 percent. That is the same percentage that Darvish has since 2012. The team always has a shot at winning when he takes the bump and is 40-24 since 2011 when Harrison starts.

He needs to take this spring to get himself back into the swing of things. In an interview with Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News, he said he can’t let Holland’s injury speed up his return to the mound. Doing so could force him back to the disabled list, and that is something this team cannot afford.

For the Rangers to reclaim the crown in the West, it will be key for Harrison to stay healthy and get back to the form he had in 2012.

All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com

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