Aaron Harang has won 16 games in consecutive years for the Reds and has quietly become one of the most dominant pitchers in Major League Baseball. The 6-foot-7 right-hander is 16-4 with a 3.61 ERA this season and had won six of his last seven decisions. He is second in the National League with 198 strikeouts and his 1.13 WHIP ranks third. Last season, Harang went 16-11 with a league-leading 216 strikeouts. This season, he has tallied 198 strikeouts. Harang, 53-37 in his four MLB seasons, answered some questions from MLBPLAYERS.com following his his latest victory on Sept. 18.
MLBPLAYERS.com: It's been a good season for you, but not so much for your team. How would you judge your season?
Harang: I feel really good about how my season has gone. I've been going out there giving us opportunities to win. The guys know I'm out there battling for them and trying to get a victory for the team. They're stepping up and putting runs on the board and playing defense for me. They've been playing well while I've been out there pitching.
MLBPLAYERS.com: Sixteen wins again, and only four losses -- do you think this season is a stepping-stone for future seasons with the Reds?
Harang: We just had rough spots early on in the season. We were losing series, and when you look back at it, if we had been winning series earlier in the year, and we played a little better earlier in the year, we're right in the hunt with everyone else -- if not ahead of everybody else. It's been like that the last two years with this team. It's just a matter of staying on a higher level, rather than staying with everyone else.
MLBPLAYERS.com: The way the NL Central has gone the last two years, does it make it harder not to have taken advantage of the parity?
Harang: I know people criticize this as a weak division, but I think this division is a lot more evenly matched than some of the others. The teams are equally good. They have their big power hitters, they have their pitchers. We've competed with some of the best teams in the league, those that are right there in the hunt for it and we've won series with them. Everybody counts the NL Central out, but I think we're a lot more of an even division than the others.
MLBPLAYERS.com: No one wants to be a spoiler at the end of a season, but you knocked St. Louis out, basically, with a sweep, and you'll be playing the Cubs again next weekend with a chance to knock them out for the second time in four seasons. Do you get any joy out of that situation?
Harang: You're going to be labeled a spoiler when you beat the top teams in your division. That's how we've been the last few years, ever since I came here in 2003. We've also played the Cubs hard over that time. We've always played St. Louis hard. We don't roll over and let them take it from us. We make them really earn it. That's how this division is, everyone competes so hard against each other, it always comes down to that last weekend.
MLBPLAYERS.com: Do you get particularly excited to come into Wrigley in late September and win a game, like you just did?
Harang: It was just like any game, really. Same as when we went in Milwaukee. But you look forward to playing these teams because they're right in the hunt, and their fans are more intense. It's always nice to go into Wrigley and have a chance to take the series. It's been a great rivalry with them.
MLBPLAYERS.com: The Cubs are going to Cincinnati during the last week of the season and it'll probably turn into Wrigley Field South, right?
Harang: Yeah. I hope our fans turn out and even it out, because otherwise it's going to be a madhouse. You'll think you're in Chicago. Like I said, I think it's going to come down to the last weekend of the season, really, to see who takes the Central.
MLBPLAYERS.com: One good thing for Cincinnati fans, the team has introduced some young talent this year, especially offensively. How does this team look going into 2008?
Harang: We've got a good team here, we just haven't played to our potential. If we played more to our potential, I think standings-wise, we'd be in a lot better shape than we are. There's always so many new faces going in and out of the clubhouse, it's hard to be on the same page with everybody. Lately, the younger guys have stepped up and shown how they can contribute to the team, and of course, we made some trades with some veteran guys. It'll be interesting to see what happens next spring and in the future.
MLBPLAYERS.com: You're almost at 200 strikeouts again, is that meaningful?
Harang: It's nice to get numbers, but I'm not out there trying to strike everybody out. They just come as the game goes on. I'm all about hitting my spots and keeping my ball down on the zone and keeping hitters off balance. The strikeouts are going to come. But the more you try for strikeouts and press, the less they'll come, usually.
MLBPLAYERS.com: Do you think you've pitched to your potential?
Harang: I think I have. This is the type of pitcher I am. I'm going to go out there and give you innings and let the numbers show up.
MLBPLAYERS.com: The Reds made a managing change again this season. Has this almost seemed like two seasons?
Harang: I was here for the last one, when they got rid of Dave Miley and hired Jerry Narron. I came over just after they got rid of Bob Boone. There have been a lot of moves since I've been here. The interim GM traded for me from Oakland and then he got let go. Then they hired Dan O'Brien, and they fired O'Brien and picked up Wayne Krivsky. I've seen a lot since I've been with the Reds, but it's part of the business. We'll see what happens this offseason. For me, I know this is where I'm going to be. I signed that four-year deal last offseason. I know I'm going to be here until 2010 or 2011.
MLBPLAYERS.com: You guys knocked the Cubs out in 2004, what do you remember about that series?
Harang: It's funny because me, (Ken) Griffey and (Adam) Dunn are the only guys left from that team. That was three years ago. They had to win two of the four (games) in the series. ... I threw that last game against Mark Prior that went 12 innings, we beat them in 12, 2-1. I gave up a solo homer to (Sammy) Sosa in the sixth. In the top of the seventh, (Austin) Kearns hit a solo homer off Prior, who punched out 16. I went seven innings, he went nine. That was an intense game.
Jon Greenberg is a freelance writer based in Chicago.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.