Baseball

Harrison's health bigger key for Rangers now

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Having Matt Harrison healthy to start the season is even more important now for the Texas Rangers with Derek Holland hurt.

Harrison, who last season had as many operations on his back as starts (two), said Tuesday that he feels good and is on track to be ready for spring training and the start of the season. "So far, so good, so hopefully keep going in the right direction," Harrison said after playing long toss, a day after a bullpen session throwing at about 80 percent. "Every day is getting a little better."

After being an All-Star and winning 18 games in 2012, Harrison got a new $55 million, five-year contract and was the opening day starter. The big left-hander started only the opener and one other game last season before two operations in nine days on a herniated disk in his lower back.

Pitching coach Mike Maddux said Harrison, who has lost about 30 pounds, "was free and easy" during a 35-pitch bullpen session Monday. Harrison has been working out since October and thrown about six bullpen sessions since late December.

"If he's healthy, a real high degree of confidence he's going to perform," general manager Jon Daniels said. "The biggest thing, we just want to make sure he doesn't feel any additional pressure with what happened with Derek. I don't want him to try to ramp it up any quicker."

Holland had microfracture surgery on his left knee Jan. 10, and isn't expected back before at least midseason. He got hurt after being tripped by his dog on the stairs at his home. As the Rangers' No. 2 starter last season behind Yu Darvish, lefty Holland was 10-9 with a 3.42 ERA in a team-high 33 starts and a career-high 213 innings.

"We've got a lot of depth in our pitching staff," Harrison said. "For me, though, I don't feel any more pressure. I've just got to go out and do what I'm capable of." Nick Tepesch was the first pitcher throwing off the mound at Rangers Ballpark on Tuesday during the team's winter camp primarily for young pitchers. The right-hander was 4-4 with a 4.84 ERA last season as a rookie, but missed two months with right elbow inflammation. Left-hander Michael Kirkman is also among the 14 pitchers taking part in the camp.

"Part of what this week is about is getting our arms around some of our internal candidates, both short term and long term," Daniels said. For Harrison, who is working out but not part of the camp, he just has to show he's healthy. He was 32-20 with a 3.34 ERA over 63 games in the two seasons before getting hurt last year.

"Definitely, the previous years have shown me I'm able to do it. It's just a matter of getting out there and doing the same thing," Harrison said. "I don't think I need to prove to them that I'm able to pitch at this level, because I feel like I've done that so far, and hopefully with the injuries and everything that my body wants to react the same way it did before the injury."

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