Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker received a tremendous amount of credit after his ballclub surprisingly won the NL Central last season. Even the NL Manager of the Year votes (he finished second to Bud Black) won’t erase his reputation for ruining pitchers by having them throw more pitches than many people would advise. His time with the Chicago Cubs was marred by injuries to emerging stars Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, and now it appears as if we can add Aaron Harang to his hit list.
Harang went from a decent starter his first two years in the league with the Oakland A’s to one of the better pitchers in the National League with the Reds. In 2006 and 2007 he won 16 games, starting 35 and 34 games respectively. His 16 wins, six complete games, and 216 strikeouts all led the league in 2006, and he finished 4th in Cy Young voting in 2007. His 2008 season was going well (except for the win-loss record) up until an outing late in May against the Padres.
Harang was roughed up for the first time all season on May 22nd, getting hit hard by the Padres for 10 knocks and five runs over five and a third innings. He threw 103 pitches that outing and the Reds lost 8-2 in the opener of a four-game set. Three days later, the Padres and Reds were in extra innings when Harang was called on to pitch. The game was tied at nine in the 13th and Harang, with only two days of rest following a 103-pitch outing, tossed four scoreless innings in relief. He was outstanding, striking out nine and allowing just two hits while throwing 63 pitches.
Despite throwing 166 pitches in four days, the right hander made his regularly scheduled start four days later against the Pirates. He was lit up by Pittsburgh for 10 hits and six runs over four innings, throwing 73 more pitches. Harang was 2-6 with a 3.50 ERA before the relief appearance and 4-11 with a 5.88 ERA after it. The result, he said was that he became fatigued “beyond the point of recovery.” Harang said “I started to change my arm angle to compensate for the fatigue and that’s when my forearm started to bother me.”
He went on the disabled list from July to August and returned with mixed results. The next two years he dealt with more injuries (an appendicitis and then a back injury), and he was never the same. Harang says his mechanics have not been consistent since suffering the forearm injury, and he hopes to regain his old form thanks to a fresh start in San Diego. Playing in the spacious Petco Park will certainly help his chances, but he needs to get his mechanics straight.
Harang was always known as a workhorse starter, but I do have to place at least partial blame on Dusty for not looking after his pitcher more. I think it was fine to ask him to relieve in the extra innings game, but then you have to give him more time off to recover before his next start. Was any other pitcher taxed as much as Harang was during that stretch? No. It’s the manager’s responsibility to look beyond the present and try to protect his players. That is a skill Dusty Baker surely has not mastered.
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