Harrison hopes offseason pays off in ’13

The two veins that pop out on Matt Harrison’s forehead when his blood pressure goes up haven’t been that prevalent over the last year.

Having a breakout season for the Texas Rangers and then getting rewarded with a new contract would make a lot of people rest easy.

The success of the 2012 season allowed Harrison to keep his emotions in check. Most of the time.

“I still can get mad when Wash (Texas manager Ron Washington) takes me out,” Harrison said.

There wasn’t much cause for that last year as Harrison went 18-11 and earned his first-ever trip to the All-Star Game. Texas rewarded the left-hander with a five-year deal in the offseason for $55 million that also includes an option for 2018.

The security last year provided Harrison was nice but it certainly didn’t allow the 27-year-old much time to rest. He’s still got too much work to do.

“I want to get back to the All-Star Game,” said Harrison, who has started twice for the Rangers this spring and was sharp in his last outing (three innings, zero runs). “I want to log more innings. I want to be a guy the rotation can count on. I feel like I’ve learned to pitch more but I’ll still got a lot of work to do.”

The key to that is getting off to a better start, which is something that’s plagued Harrison throughout his career. In 2011 he allowed 19 earned runs in the first inning, which was the most of any inning he pitched. He cut that number to 15 in 2012, but that’s still too high in his eyes.

First-inning struggles dig holes and shorten outings. That’s not something Harrison’s interested in.

“I still have to find a way to stay away from the big inning early in games,” he said. “It was a lot better last year. There were still times I threw 40 something pitches in the first two innings. It’s being able to figure out in the first inning how to get through it without giving up walks and runs. I know starters get comfortable in the game as it goes on. I know I can’t nibble because you get in trouble early in the game.”

So how has Harrison worked on improving his game in the offseason? Lots of studying. One of the first things he studied was himself. Watching videos of his outings last year helped.

“There are teams that I face throughout the season that I should throw inside more too,” he said. “Some teams are full of free swingers and swing earlier in the count when I’m trying to throw a strike. I definitely can pitch them differently. That comes with experience.”

Harrison didn’t limit his studying to his own outings. He did some scouting of other left-handers as well. Harrison relies on his sinker more than other left-handers. Teams can sit on that pitch and he knows that.

That led Harrison to work harder to refine his slider.

“I’ve got to improve that,” he said. “I watch other lefties and how they use their slider and when they use their slider. Trying to find someone who pitches is same way I do is kind of hard because I throw so many sinkers. A lot of times guys use a backdoor slider and pitch more inside than I do. It’s about finding a happy medium.”