Harrison feels healthy in AFL start
Rangers prospect shares spotlight with Nats' Strasburg
PHOENIX -- A Major Leaguer made his first start in more than four months at Phoenix Municipal Stadium on Tuesday. The day's buzz, however, reserved itself for his opponent, a player making only his third professional appearance. Matt Harrison didn't mind ceding the spotlight to June's top overall Draft pick, Stephen Strasburg.
"I'm just out there trying to get my innings in," said Harrison. "I've heard all the hype and he's a very good pitcher from what I've seen. He's got great stuff."
The matchup came as Harrison's Surprise Rafters visited Strasburg's Phoenix Desert Dogs in an Arizona Fall League game won by Phoenix, 7-6. Harrison allowed a walk, a hit batsman, two hits and two runs in two innings in taking the loss, but for the most part kept hitters off-balance.
"I was happy with my command today," noted the 24-year old left-hander. "I was able to command my fastball, changeup and curveball. I've still got a little work on the cutter a little bit. But overall, I'm happy to be back on the mound and just to be back out there."
Rangers director of player development Scott Servais joined special assistant to the general manager Ron Hopkins to observe the game and explained the organization's reasons for sending Harrison to the AFL for the second time in three years.
"Matt's coming back from the thoracic outlet syndrome surgery and things have been going very well for him," said Servais. "[He's] just got to get his innings under his belt and then he can shut it down this winter and feel good about where his arm's at coming into Spring Training next year."
The Desert Dogs only hit two balls hard off Harrison, and both resulted in outs. A line drive to left field ended the second inning as Cardinals prospect Tyler Henley made a diving catch. Nationals Minor Leaguer Danny Espinosa also hit a shot off the pitcher's torso as the game's second batter. The impact of the ball on his ribs did not concern Harrison.
"It's kind of stiff now, but it's going to be sore the next couple of days, but it'll be good to go," Harrison said, also commenting on his overall well-being. "Healthwise, it was the best I've felt in a long time. The surgery went very well and, like I said, it just feels really good to be back on the mound and being able to get a few innings in down here and get ready for next year."
Strasburg ended up as the winning pitcher, striking out five and allowing only one hit and one run over 4 1/3 innings. He stymied Rangers prospects Mitch Moreland, Marcus Lemon, and Doug Hogan as they combined to go 0-for-5 off the right-hander. However, Lemon's triple off reliever Josh Wilkie of the Nationals organization plated an inherited runner to keep Strasburg's outing from ending scoreless.
"I only got a chance to face him once because he did very well, where we didn't get through the lineup completely again," said Lemon. "He's a good pitcher."
Servais considers the opportunity to face AFL opponents with a pedigree valuable for Rangers prospects.
"With all 30 organizations having presence here, you're going to see the better prospects like a Strasburg," he said. "It's good for our players to face that caliber of pitching."
Lemon and Moreland each recorded two hits once Phoenix's relief corps took over. Rangers prospects Tanner Scheppers, Danny Gutierrez, and Evan Reed pitched out of the Rafters' bullpen. Reed posted the cleanest line with a perfect seventh inning.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Rafters play a home game against the Peoria Saguaros. Another former Nationals first-round pick pitches, this time for Surprise. Aaron Crow didn't sign with Washington in 2008 and now pitches in the Royals organization.
Rush Olson is a contributor to MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.