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Washington on Harrison's strong start

ARLINGTON -- Matt Harrison was the Rangers' best pitcher in Spring Training and he carried that over into his first regular-season start. His mechanics are better, his command has been excellent and he has been sharp with all his pitches.

"I'm also seeing one more year of experience out of him and that's always good," said catcher Yorvit Torrealba. "Harrison was really working tonight."

The White Sox felt the same way. Harrison held them scoreless over six innings and three relievers finished the job, allowing the Rangers to earn their first shutout of the season with a 5-0 victory at Rangers Ballpark on Sunday night.

The Rangers led the American League with a club-record 19 shutouts last season. They now have their first after the work of Harrison plus relievers Mark Lowe, Robbie Ross and Koji Uehara. Ross was able to contribute a scoreless inning in his Major League debut, but Harrison was still the story of the night.

"Harrison pitched great," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "This is one of those where you tip your hat to him."

A crowd of 45,368 and a national television audience saw Harrison hold the White Sox to four hits and two walks while striking out three. He did so combining his sinking fastball with a changeup and a couple of breaking pitches that have become more effective because of his mechanics.

Harrison is concentrating on stepping directly toward the catcher and coming straight downhill with his pitches. In the past, he's had a tendency to open up too quickly with his delivery and step toward the right of home plate. That errant path had a negative effect on both command and movement, especially with his offspeed pitches.

On Sunday night, he went right at his opponents with a four-pitch mix and the White Sox could tell a difference.

"We talked about it on the bench," White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "He had more pitches than normal. In the past, he had been mostly fastball slider, especially to lefties. He threw some changeups to lefties. He pitched. For everything we had seen, somewhere he learned that. He deserves a ton of credit because he made a lot of good pitches when he had to."

Harrison's changeup was especially effective diving down and away from right-handed hitters.

"I was able to throw my offspeed pitches for strikes early in the game," Harrison said. "It gave them something to swing at besides my fastball. They fouled a lot of pitches off early, but I just kept pounding the strike zone and making them put the ball in play."

The Rangers only had six hits on the night, but three of them were home runs off White Sox starter Gavin Floyd. David Murphy, Adrian Beltre and Josh Hamilton all went deep as the Rangers took two of three from the White Sox to open the season.

"They maximized everything they got off of Gavin," Ventura said. "Five runs on six hits. They have that kind of power and you go on to play another day."

Murphy gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead in the third with a leadoff home run and Harrison helped himself keep the lead with his defense. That happened after Gordon Beckham led off the fourth with a double and went to third as Adam Dunn grounded out.

Paul Konerko followed with a sharp grounder back to the mound. Harrison grabbed it off his shoes and was able to catch Beckham in a rundown off third for the second out.

"I just kind of stuck my glove down there and it went in," Harrison said. "I wasn't sure, but it was big to get out of that inning."

Harrison did walk Alex Rios but Pierzynski grounded out to second baseman Michael Young to end the inning. Harrison also stranded Eduardo Escobar after a two-out triple in the fifth by getting Alejandro De Aza to ground out, and he struck out Pierzynski with two on and two out in the sixth. The White Sox were 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position against Harrison, who ended up throwing 103 pitches over six innings.

"Outstanding," manager Ron Washington said. "Harrison had a good sinker working, he was moving the ball up and down, in and out, good breaking ball. Early in the game they fouled off so many pitches it put him in a bad way at the end, but he gave us what we needed tonight."

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