Harang to start Opening Day
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By Hal McCoy
Saturday, March 01, 2008
SARASOTA, Fla. — It isn't stop-the-presses news, or even front-page news, but in case there was one doubter out there — yes, Aaron Harang is the Opening Day pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds.
When Harang started Saturday's March 1 game against Pittsburgh, a wild, wind-blown 12-11 victory, it put him on perfect alignment to pitch Opening Day against Arizona, his third straight Opening Day assignment.
Even though he was 16-6 last season, following up on a 16-11 season, manager Dusty Baker thinks there are even better things stuffed in that 6-7, 275-pound body.
"Everybody can be better," said Baker. "I wasn't here to see him last year, but I saw him pitch against me (Chicago Cubs) and he throws strike one, keeps the ball down and minimizes pitches, which I like a lot. He rarely has high pitch counts deep in the game because he is a pitch conservationist. He doesn't go 0-2, then to 3-2 because he is picking."
Harang retired the first four Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday at Ed Smith Stadium, then gave up a walk and two doubles for two runs in the second inning. Tons of runs later, after Pittsburgh scored four in the top of the ninth for a 11-10 lead, Scott Hatteberg blooped a game-ending single to left field.
As Baker says, Harang knows there is room for improvement, which is why he spent the winter working on his change-up, "And everybody seems to think it's better this year."
Even though it was his first competition against another team and Opening Day is nearly four weeks away, Harang still gets revved up over it.
"It's a big deal in Cincinnati, even though we don't get to be part of the parade and we're sort of behind the scenes, you can tell by the crowd, it's special."
As for his outing, Harang said, "After I put a runner on — as you know, walks kill you — the adrenaline started pumping, but I'm still getting the feel for things and trying to calm the heart rate down from being back out there. The heart pumps, even in spring training, when you get into key situations."
New advance scout
Shawn Pender resigned last week as head baseball coach at St. Joseph's and immediately signed as an advance scout with the Reds. He has a baseball background as a former crosschecker/scout with the Baltimore Orioles.
Pender was 41-116 in three seasons with the Hawks and tossed in his spikes after William & Mary swept his team in four games to open the season.
Careful with Castro
One of the candidates to replace Alex Gonzalez is veteran shortstop Juan Castro, but he is coming off Tommy John elbow surgery. He is doing everything asked of him, participating in drills and games, but Baker is going easy with him.
"I'm trying not to use him two days in a row, if I don't have to," said Baker. I've seen him throw the ball well, but we have to make sure he keeps progressing and not overdo anything to set him back."
Castro started at short Saturday and the first Pittsburgh batter, Nyjer Morgan, hit one deep into the hole and Castro threw him out easily. And he had a run-scoring single in the second.
Quotes of the day
• A young reporter asked manager Dusty Baker if he thought Jay Bruce was pressing and Baker, knowing Bruce was hitting .571 at the time, was taken aback as he said, "I can't see him pressing at all, man. If I was hitting like he's hitting there is no need to press."
• Melissa Griffey arrived in the players parking lot Saturday, her first appearance this spring, threw her arms around husband Ken Griffey Jr.'s neck and said, "I can't wait to see you play," then right on cue Griffey hit a two-run homer on his first at-bat.