Harrison hoping to build off breakout season

Texas left-hander Matt Harrison will be back in his comfort zone Tuesday when he makes his first spring start for the Rangers against Arizona.

His offseason was anything but comfortable.

Instead of relishing in a breakthrough 2011 season that included 30 starts and a career high 14 victories, Harrison had to hear his name being mentioned with free agent right-hander Roy Oswalt. Had the Rangers been able to come to terms with Oswalt, it could have cost Harrison a rotation spot.

That’s not exactly a fun way for Harrison, 26, to spend time resting up for 2012. But in typical Harrison style, the low-key North Carolinian didn’t fret too much about his possible predicament.

“I was never worried about it in the first place,” Harrison said. “It’s out of my control. The important thing was just to make sure I was ready to go here and prepare myself for another season. If they signed him (Oswalt), they signed him. They never told me anything about it.”

As it turned out, the Rangers did not sign Oswalt, and Harrison seems entrenched as a member of the rotation. He wanted to be with the Rangers this season with or without Oswalt. Harrison said he wasn’t considering asking for a trade even if Oswalt joined the club, which was the impression some got.

“I think that kind of came out the wrong way,” he said. “I was trying to say if we did sign him, there’s a possibility I could get traded. I would never ask for a trade if they signed him. I like the guy. If he plays for the Rangers, cool.”

The Rangers certainly are cool with having Harrison back in the rotation.

Harrison, who has been on the club’s Opening Day roster in each of the last three seasons, finally was able to put together an injury-free year with some consistency in 2011. He set the tone by winning his first three starts of the season.

He followed that up by finishing 15th in the American League in ERA at 3.39 and posted 20 quality starts. He was dominant in his wins, as he allowed two or fewer runs in 12 of his 14 victories.

He also had rough patches with three starts in which he didn’t pitch more than four innings, and he endured a four-start losing streak. He also had his rotation spot skipped late in the season to keep him fresh.

Harrison thinks he knows what he has to do to be more consistent.

“I just want to try and have more good games and learn from the bad ones,” said Harrison, who used getting left off the 2010 postseason roster as motivation last year. “Basically those mistakes were made by me not being aggressive early in the game. I fell behind and walked guys early and gave up four or five runs and (ran) up my pitch count. I have to learn from that, and hopefully, it doesn’t happen again.”

One of those non-aggressive starts came in Game 7 of the World Series. Harrison took the loss, but he didn’t pitch poorly. He allowed three runs in four innings and left with the Rangers trailing 3-2. Texas spotted him a 2-0 lead in the first but he walked two batters in the bottom of the inning and both of those runners scored.

Like everyone else in the Texas clubhouse, Harrison said he’s moved on from the World Series. He’d like to get another crack at the elusive title, and the Rangers think  he will play a big part in helping them get back.

There’s no doubting he has the physical tools to get it done. Manager Ron Washington said Harrison is the best athlete of the starters. Harrison is also one of the hardest throwing, as his fastball tops out in the mid-90s. He can also mix in offspeed pitches.

“Matt Harrison is a power pitcher with finesse,” Washington said. “We’ve seen his growth. We’ve seen his potential.”

The potential has been there since the club acquired him in 2007 as part of the Mark Teixeira trade with Atlanta. He won nine games in 2008 with Texas but was slowed by Thoracic Outlet Syndrome in 2009 and inconsistency in 2010.

He showed he could be consistent last season. Now he’s ready to prove he can be even better in 2012.

“Last year I learned I could finally pitch at this level and believe in myself, and I wasn’t afraid to fail,” said Harrison, whose wife, Meghan, gave birth to the couple’s first child Addie Grace in the offseason. “Even with the bad games, I learned from those. I needed last season, especially after the last two seasons that were kind of rotten. I know I can be better. Now I just want to show it.”