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03/04/10 7:50 PM EST
Harden, Lewis economical in debuts
Rangers' offseason additions breeze through opener
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Rangers' two prized pitching acquisitions made their Spring Training debut on Thursday. The results? Harden threw 29 pitches in two innings and Colby Lewis threw 11 in one inning. "I'll take 200 of those all year long," said Lewis, who set down the side in order in the third inning in the Rangers' 13-3 victory over the Royals on Thursday. "Overall, for the first day I was pretty happy with the way it went," Harden said. "The big thing is throwing first-pitch strikes and getting ahead of hitters. It's Spring Training, good or bad, you just want to get your work in and prepare for the season. Championships aren't won in Spring Training." No, but Thursday's work in the Cactus League opener was a reminder of a crucial factor in what both need to do this season to be successful. They need to keep their pitches-per-inning count at reasonable levels. Harden, signed during the offseason as a free agent, averaged 17.7 pitches per inning last year for the Cubs. That was the seventh-most for any pitcher in the Majors with at least 120 innings. That left him averaging 5.4 innings per outing over his 26 starts. Harden was only able to pitch at least six innings in 15 of 26 starts. By contrast, Roy Halladay averaged 14.2 pitches per inning for the Blue Jays, the lowest in the American League. He ended up averaging 7.5 innings per outing and went at least six innings in 30 of 32 starts. "Whether it's a long inning or a short inning, the key is getting ahead of hitters," Harden said. "I've always been good at falling behind 2-and-0 and 3-and-0 and then coming back. But that leads to high pitch counts."The second hitter on Thursday was an example. Harden fell behind Jason Kendall 3-and-0 before getting him to ground out on a full-count pitch. That's six pitches in one batter for those scoring at home. Harden understands the necessity of economy of pitches. He is trying to adapt as a pitcher. He is one of the hardest throwers in the game and still has a devastating changeup. His only strikeout on Thursday came on a changeup. But Harden, who was just 87-90 mph with his fastball on Thursday, has come to understand the importance of changing speeds on his fastball, getting hitters off-balance and getting grounders and popouts early in the count. "The older you get, the more you realize it's not how hard you throw," Harden said. "I take more off my fastball instead of add, add, add. You sit there and throw 95, 96 all the time and they're going to get a piece of it and keep fouling you off until you square one up." Lewis, re-signed by the Rangers as a free agent after two seasons with the Hiroshima Carp, mastered the art of throwing strikes and pounding the strike zone during his time in Japan. In 354 1/3 innings, he walked just 46 batters and struck out 369. When Lewis pitched for the Rangers in 2003, he made 26 starts and averaged a stressful 18.2 pitches per inning. One year later, he ended up on the operating table with a torn rotator cuff. On Thursday, he retired his three hitters with just 11 pitches on two grounders and a fly to center. "The pitching was outstanding today," manager Ron Washington said. "We threw the ball over the plate and made them swing the bat and put the ball in play. That's what we're trying to do."
2010 Spring Training - Texas Rangers
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T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.