Rangers hang on for Harden's first win
Righty battles control, gets help from five-run opening frame
ARLINGTON -- Rich Harden says he feels great physically, and he's close to putting it all together.
He also doesn't sugarcoat things and he knows the numbers don't tell that story. Five walks. Two hit batters. Not a clean inning on the books.
Yes, he turned in a quality start, his second of the season in the Rangers' harrowing 6-5 victory over the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday night that saw closer Neftali Feliz flirt with disaster in the ninth inning.
But back to Harden. The results were fine Wednesday -- two runs in six innings for his first victory -- but everyone is waiting for the dominant pitcher that Harden and the Rangers think is bottled up somewhere inside the 6-foot-1 Canadian.
"It's not how I want to pitch," Harden said. "It's not how I wanted to start the year. I still have some work to do." Harden says it might be a question of finding the correct arm slot. It's not like he's getting crushed out there. He's allowed 21 hits in 23 2/3 innings, including only four against the White Sox, which seems to support his argument that he is getting better.
"It's a positive that guys aren't squaring up on me," said Harden, who was helped by three double plays on Wednesday.
But his command is still an issue, and Harden knows it. He has 23 walks -- that's one free pass per inning. He still has his opponents feeling they can get to him, and that's not the way it was with Harden when he was in Oakland and had one of the best young arms in baseball.
"Early in that game, we couldn't do a lot of damage," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "Harden was doing everything to give up runs, but he makes one pitch every inning. Just one pitch in every inning he pitches to get out of it." Harden can live with hitting a few batters because he's being aggressive. But he was disgusted with a leadoff walk to former Rangers shortstop Omar Vizquel to start the sixth inning.
Vizquel took a called third strike in the third inning. Harden sensed Vizquel didn't want to take the bat off his shoulder in the sixth. But Harden walked him after falling behind by throwing three changeups for balls, getting the count full and then missing the strike zone with a splitter. Later in the inning, Carlos Quintin hit a two-out three-run home run on a slider to make it 5-3 and get the White Sox back in the game.
"The walks are what are hurting me," Harden said.
Harden wasn't the only Rangers pitcher struggling with his command. Feliz was one batter away from getting pulled from a save situation or a tie game in the ninth inning.
The 21-year-old entered the ninth with a 6-3 lead. That evaporated quickly. He got the first out when Mark Teahan flied out to left, but Quentin flicked a double into right field on a 95 mph fastball. Mark Kotsay lined out, but A.J. Pierzynski hit a jam shot into right field to make it 6-4.
With Opening Day closer Frank Francisco warming up in the bullpen, Feliz gave up another hit, a run-scoring single to White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez for a 6-5 game.
That brought up Chicago leadoff hitter Juan Pierre with Francisco still throwing in the bullpen. When would manager Ron Washington have made a pitching change?
"If Pierre had gotten on base," Washington said.
With his reign as closer maybe hanging in the balance, Feliz got Pierre to hit a ground ball to shortstop, and Elvis Andrus just nipped the White Sox speedy leadoff hitter at first base.
"When it's all over, we got the three out we needed to get us a win," Washington said.
The Rangers took a 5-0 lead in the bottom of the first. Andrus had a leadoff single and after Michael Young popped out, Josh Hamilton ripped a 2-2 pitch over the center-field fence for his third home run of the season and a 2-0 lead.
The Rangers weren't done in the inning, taking advantage of three straight two-out walks by White Sox starter Jake Peavy. The No. 8 and 9 hitters for the Rangers made Peavy pay as Joaquin Arias returned to the lineup with a two-run single and Julio Borbon added a run-scoring hit. In all, the Rangers sent 10 men to the plate in the inning.
Young looked like he tacked on an inside-the-park home run in the bottom of the seventh to make it 6-3, but first-base umpire Ed Rapuano ruled that Young's drive hit the warning track and bounced off the back wall for a ground-rule double.
"I saw the replay," Washington said. "It was the right call." Young did score in the seventh on David Murphy's two-out double for a three-run lead.
That turned out to be a big run as Feliz nearly blew his second save in six days.
Todd Wills is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.