Three Cuts: Harang shaky, but solid after All-Star layoff

Aaron Harang threw six strong innings, but had to work from behind and out of a number of jams. The Braves lost to the Phillies, 2-1.

Dale Zanine/Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

ATLANTA — One swing of the bat doomed the Atlanta Braves on Saturday. Philadephia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins launched a 95 MPH fastball over the right field fence in the seventh inning, for all the runs his team would need to topple the Braves. Atlanta scored a run in the bottom of the seventh, but still lost an old-fashioned pitchers’ duel, 2-1. Here are three observations from the game:

The line on Aaron Harang’s performance Saturday was solid–actually, darned impressive.

Harang threw six innings and gave up just five hits, he allowed no runs and struck out four, while walking three. That’s a winning line in most ballparks, on any given night. It didn’t go that way for Harang against the Phillies.

While Harang was posting zeros on his side of the scorebook, Philadelphia starter Cole Hamels was doing the same. In fact, Hamels was so effective, he didn’t give up a hit until the fifth inning.

Both starters posted zeroes on the scoreboard with regularity, But for Harang, his clean slate came with an incredible struggle.

Harang’s first inning was a harbinger of rough times ahead.

The first Phillies batter of the night, Grady Sizemore, singled to right field. Two flyball outs later, and Harang issued a walk to Ryan Howard. With two on and two out, Harang induced a strikeout to end the inning, but threw 24 pitches in the process.

Sixteen pitches flew from Harang’s arm in the second inning. Sure, it was a 1-2-3 inning, but Domonic Brown and Cameron Rupp worked the count, and drove Harang’s pitch count higher.

By the time Harang made it through the third inning–and that was no picnic as he loaded the bases with only one out before he fought back to end the inning clean–he had hurled 60 pitches, but only given up two hits.

"I didn’t feel as sharp as usual," said Harang after the game. "I was a little erratic, trying to figure some things out. But once I kind of calmed down and was able to do that through the third, the game went a little bit smoother for me."

Harang threw 24 pitches over the next two innings. Even though they weren’t clean–he allowed a runner on base in both frames–he was much more effective with his work. After a leadoff hit in the sixth, Harang struck out two batters and got a flyball out to strand yet another Phillies baserunner.

His 103 pitches on Saturday weren’t always pretty, but the way Harang fought was valiant. He attributed his early struggles on the long layoff because of the All-Star break. His last outing was nine days prior, on July 10.

"Harang maneuvered himself through the lineup for six innings," said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez. "It was not easy to do, especially (since) there’s a couple of guys in that lineup that have hit him pretty good. He did a terrific job."

Grady Sizemore (.440 in 27 at-bats) and Chase Utley (.433 in 33 at-bats) have both hit .430 or better during their careers, while Ryan Howard has launched three bombs and driven in eight runs in 33 at-bats against Harang.

Sizemore got on base in every at-bat versus Harang on Saturday. But Howard and Utley were held hitless. Harang did a good job of picking his battles in spots he knew he could win.

"I sit in the dugout, and I’ve kind of gotten used to him now, said Gonzalez. "He’s not going to give in. He may walk a guy, and walk another guy to get to the guy he knows he can get out. That’s being a veteran."

Left-handed relief pitcher Chasen Shreve made it to the mound on his first night in the big leagues.

With nobody on, and two outs in the top of the seventh inning, Shreve was called in to face lefty masher Ryan Howard. Shreve struck Howard out on five pitches.

After taking the mound in the eighth, Shreve gave up two hits and recorded an out before being pulled with runners on first and third. Gonzalez liked what he saw, and plans to keep marching the 24-year-old flame-thrower out there.