Aaron Harang made his first start in a Phillies uniform on Wednesday night at cold, wet Citizens Bank Park, and you can’t say he didn’t make the most of his first impression with the club.
Over six and 1/3 innings, Harang did everything you could have asked of the 36-year old journeyman, and so much more. Striking out eight batters, he only gave up one walk and two hits on the way to the Phillies 4-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox. Harang actually stayed perfect into the 4th inning, when a single by Pablo Sandoval gave Boston their first baserunner of the night. Harang responded by retiring the next seven batters.
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So, what can we make of his performance? First off, we have to acknowledge certain caveats. Namely, if you were somehow unaware, it was a cold and dreary night in Philadelphia. At most, the termperature topped out in the mid-40’s at game time; Freddy Galvis‘ face was wrapped up like he was getting ready to rob a stagecoach after the game.
In conditions like this, the ball doesn’t travel well and the pitcher has more leeway to challenge the batter. Games like the one last night are the kind of early-season outings that hitters always dread, and the man on the mound generally gets a boost from this advantage.
“To be able to come in and be aggressive and get us deep into a game, save the bullpen from any major inning buildups, is always nice.” ~ Harang
The difficult hitting conditions shouldn’t take away from Harang’s impressive performance. What really impressed was his ability to get ahead of the batters in the count early; of the 21 batters he faced, 17 started with a strike, and the majority either ended up in counts of 0-2, 1-2, or popped/grounded out before they could reach that point. Boston features a potent lineup, but they were repeatedly forced on the defensive by Harang’s excellent pitch placement.
As for those pitches themselves, they were about what we could have expected, perhaps a bit more polished. His curve seemed to have more movement on it than last year, which will be a valuable development if it remains true, as his fastball will never overpower hitters.
Harang’s command and location, his ability to place a pitch on the corner of the box, means he doesn’t have to blow it by them. He was especially good at working the ball down and inside, forcing the Boston lineup to choke up on their bats, which is especially difficult in the cold weather mentioned earlier.
All in all, what’s most impressive about this outing wasn’t just the outcome, but that Harang didn’t seem to be pitching outside of himself during the performance. He didn’t suddenly jump up to the high-90’s on his fastball, or catch any lucky breaks with the ball-and-strike calls from the umpires.
For lack of a better word, there was nothing “flukey” about this performance. Harang simply outpitched the Boston Red Sox, a talented team expected to be one of the most offensively gifted in the league this season.
“It’s always nice to come in and pitch well”, Harang said about his Phillies debut after the game, “To be able to come in and be aggressive and get us deep into a game, save the bullpen from any major inning buildups, is always nice.”
If he can continue to do the same for the rest of the season, Aaron Harang just might become a bright spot in a year where Phillies fans have already begun to see a lot of darkness.