Harang dominates as Reds blank Bucs
Cincinnati ace shuts out Pittsburgh in complete-game gem
CINCINNATI -- While pitching a dominant complete-game shutout against Pittsburgh on Sunday, right-hander Aaron Harang made life easy for his Reds colleagues -- well, for most of them anyway.
Harang's performance certainly didn't leave Reds manager Dusty Baker with any simple options as his squad entered the top of the ninth. Sure, Harang eventually secured the 2-0 win for Cincinnati with his dominating three-hit, nine-strikeout performance. But Baker wasn't sure what to do about his game plan entering the final inning.
"If it's 3-0 or 4-0 -- or 6-0, like it should have been -- there's no question," Baker said. "But 2-0 in our ballpark with guys that can reach the fence ... you just want that last strike to be thrown. Aaron was masterful, and it's a tough position for the manager. Take him out and something happens, or leave him in and something happens."
Baker knew Harang's opinion about the matter without having to ask his 6-foot-7, 261-pound ace -- "He was going to have to drag me off the field," Harang said with a laugh -- and Baker allowed him to take the mound in the ninth.
Although Pirates left fielder Nyjer Morgan, who reached base three times on Sunday, singled with one out, Baker never left the bench. Harang then coerced Freddy Sanchez to fly out and struck out Nate McLouth to end the game and seal the sixth shutout and 12th complete game of his career.
"In a situation like that, you look at his pitch count and see how he's throwing," Baker said. "Aaron never wants to come out of the game. If one man had gotten on early, it might have been a different story. But Aaron was dealing. Morgan got the hit, and we started thinking, 'Does he have enough?' You could tell by the way he was throwing, he wanted that badly."
Following a pretty good Opening Day appearance, when he allowed one run and seven hits in five innings while throwing 114 pitches, Harang was spectacular against the Pirates. After Morgan's game-opening double, no other Pittsburgh batter advanced past first base. Harang went to a three-ball count just once and a two-ball count only seven times. He was extremely efficient, throwing 108 pitches, 80 of them for strikes, a stat that caused Baker to murmur, "Wow."
"They knew I was throwing strikes," said Harang, who improved to 1-1 and lowered his ERA to 0.64. "They knew they had to swing. I wasn't trying to be too fine with my pitches. I was able to hit my spots on the outside corner on both sides of the plate. I was keeping them honest on the inside half, so they couldn't lean out there and push the ball the other way."
Harang was clearly comfortable pitching to new Cincinnati catcher Ramon Hernandez. Although Hernandez missed significant playing time in Spring Training because he was with Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, the two worked together well on Sunday. Harang only had to shake off Hernandez once, and that was simply to change the location of the pitch.
"I caught him in Oakland when he was coming up, and he's a guy who has good control," Hernandez said. "He keeps the ball down a lot, and that's what he did today. He was throwing the two-seam and the four-seam pretty well on both sides of the plate. He was getting ahead, and he was putting them away. He didn't need to throw anything else."
While Pirates right-hander Ian Snell (0-2) was mostly effective, allowing five hits and two runs in six innings while striking out seven, the Reds did all their damage in the bottom of the first. After Willy Taveras led off with a double, Phillips smashed a two-out home run to the left-center-field bleachers to give Cincinnati the only runs it needed.
"When we got the 'Ranger' on the mound, that's all we needed," said Phillips. "I just tried to go out there and put a nice swing on it."
While the Reds threatened in the third and fifth innings -- they put runners on second and third with one out in both frames -- Snell ended the threats. Then, in the bottom of the eighth, the Pirates' defense took over. Phillips led off the inning with a walk, and Jay Bruce followed with a single. But with the Reds on a hit-and-run, Edwin Encarnacion lofted a soft liner to Bucs shortstop Jack Wilson, who caught it, threw it to Sanchez at second base to double off Phillips and watched as Sanchez flipped to Adam LaRoche at first to complete the triple play.
"That's the first triple play I've ever seen in person," Baker said. "The last one, I was in the bathroom, and I came out and everybody was grabbing their gloves. I asked what happened, and they said, 'Triple play.'"
Not that it mattered to Harang.
"It was definitely nice this early in the season to go out and get a complete game, because they don't happen very often anymore," Harang said. "[It gives] the bullpen guys the day off and [gets] some good energy going on the road."
Josh Katzowitz is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.