Shin-Soo Choo tripled in the ninth inning Tuesday night to hit for the cycle, a feat that had been accomplished only seven times previously in Texas Rangers history.
But Choo wasn’t the story of the Rangers’ 9-0 victory over the Colorado Rockies.
Matt Harrison was.
The left-hander from South Granville High delivered six scoreless innings in his second start since undergoing major back surgery in June 2014, and flashed the kind of velocity that Rangers brass was hoping to see as he tried to hang onto his spot in the rotation.
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His first start July 8 was the end of a long road on the rehab trail. His start at Coors Field, a hitter’s paradise, could rate as the launching point to a being a viable big-league pitcher again.
“The first time I stepped on the mound was an accomplishment,” said Harrison, an All-Star in 2012. “But today was more of a confidence boost but also showed that I can still pitcher here. That was huge for me.”
Harrison (1-1) scattered seven hits and pitched out of trouble in a 28-pitch first inning, a 19-pitch fifth inning, and, oddly enough, a four-pitch fourth inning. He was at 49 pitches after two innings, but needed only 42 more before getting replaced after the sixth.
Manager Jeff Banister said that Harrison wasn’t pleased to be pulled, and claimed that he felt good enough to return for the eighth. Instead, right-handers Spencer Patton, Keone Kela and Shawn Tolleson completed the shutout.
The significance of Harrison’s performance after making only six starts combined in 2013 and 2014 while having three back operations, including the fusion of the L5-S1 disk, wasn’t lost on Banister or Harrison’s teammates.
“To see them come in and congratulate him and know exactly where he’s comes from, to be able to do that was really special,” Banister said. “I get emotional over these type of performances and opportunities and just moments in time in players’ careers and their lives with just where they’ve been and what they’ve had to overcome.”
The Rangers had concerns about Harrison after he topped out at only 87 mph while allowing six runs in four innings against Arizona. But he threw 23 pitches at 89 to 91 mph, a significant uptick after tweaking his mechanics during a bullpen session.
His two-seamer also had more sink to it, and he benefited from two double plays behind him.
Harrison retired Troy Tulowitzki all three times, and the All-Star failed to reach base in a game for the first time since May 26.
“Every time we got something going he got a groundball, made a pitch,” Tulowitzki said. “We just couldn’t get anything going. It was one of those games. We fell behind, and he made some pitches when he needed to.”
Harrison very well may have had to earn his next start.
“I think so,” he said. “I think I’ve been needing to do that for a while.”