Harang Looking to Resurrect Career With Indians
Craig Gifford | On 28, Feb 2014
The Cleveland Indians open the 2014 season with new expectations despite many questions. The Indians’ 25-man roster will look different than the group that won 92 games and lost the American League Wild Card game to the Tampa Bay Rays. While the roster may change and the expectations grow, Cleveland will need answer many questions this spring before opening the season in Oakland on March 31. Today, we look at one of the Indians’ players who is in need of a bounce back season after a poor 2013.
Two seasons ago, starting pitcher Aaron Harang was coming off a solid season with the Los Angeles Dodgers. His 10-10, 3.61 ERA campaign of 2012 was the continuation of what had been a good career to that point.
After a 2013 season, however, in which Harang took a major step back, he now finds himself in Goodyear, Az. hoping to land a job in Cleveland’s starting five. A year ago, in 26 starts with the Mariners and Mets, the right-handed, 35-year-old was 5-12 with a 5.76 ERA. It was the worst season of his career. It is why a guy who twice won 16 games came so cheaply. It is possible he was starting to show signs of regression in his mid-30s. It is also possible that 2013 was a one-year blip. The Indians are hoping for the latter.
“He’s a veteran who knows how to pitch,” said Tribe manager Terry Francona. “We’re looking forward to seeing what he can do.”
Harang may have to show a lot in what is a crowded field for the No. 5 spot in the rotation. By all accounts, the first four starters are a near given. Justin Masterson is the returning all-star, ace. Zach McAllister and Corey Kluber are entering their third Major League seasons and are locks for the second and third spots. Last year’s rookie surprise, Danny Salazar, is not guaranteed the fourth spot in the rotation, but a lot would have to go wrong for it to not happen.
That leaves a plethora of journeymen and in-house candidates for the final vacancy. According to Francona, management and the coaching staff want to give Josh Tomlin and Carlos Carrasco first crack at the No. 5 starter role. Both have been in the Cleveland organization for multiple years. There is no guarantee that either will stand out this spring, so the Tribe has brought in multiple options just in case.
“(General Manager) Chris (Antonetti) and I have gone back and forth all winter on the right amount of pitching,” Francon said. “Nothing has changed in what we’ve said about Carlos Carrasco and Josh Tomlin. We’re just trying to have depth.”
Tomlin had a solid 2011 campaign before injuring his elbow in 2012 and losing most of 2013 to Tommy John surgery. Carrasco, a main acquisition in the 2009 Cliff Lee trade, has shown flashes of brilliance, but has also been maddening. The Indians would love to see one of those two take the final spot. Should either falter, Harang is one of many new faces the Indians have brought in for depth.
Before the down year a season ago, Harang had rarely met with failure. He was off the heels of a good 2012. In 2011, with the Padres, Harang was 14-7 with a 3.64 ERA. That followed a 2010 season that had previously been his low point, when he won just 6 games and posted a 5.32 ERA in his eighth and final year with the Reds. It does show the veteran has the ability to bounce back from adversity.
Harang is looking for another bounce back. If he can resemble the pitcher of just two seasons ago, the Indians would probably have to think long and hard about adding the spring-training invitee to the 40-man roster and putting him the starting rotation from the get-go. Tomlin and Carrasco could both go the Triple-A or even serve in long relief out of the bullpen.
To expect a return to Harang’s 16-win seasons may be a bit foolhardy. Those years were 2006 and 2007. He finished fourth in the 2007 National League Cy Young voting. It is doubtful, in a year that he will turn 36, that Harang would ever get back to that level. What the Indians would not mind seeing, though, is veteran who can give a high amount of innings and perhaps be a learning tool for a fairly young pitching staff.
Another guy in camp, Shaun Marcum, is in Harang’s same boat. He had a forgettable 2013 campaign after years of quality pitching. At 32, more than three years younger than Harang, Marcum may be a better bet to bounce back. His issues may have centered more around injury than hitting any sort of age wall.
The final arm Harang has to contend with is the young, and highly talented Trevor Bauer. Bauer, is hopeful that he can start to reach his potential after tinkering with his mechanics in the offseason. However, it seems likely that he is headed to Triple-A, barring an amazing spring, to finish off his seasoning.
In the end, it seems there are five candidates in the competition for the fifth starter spot. If two are impressive, it may be possible that Salazar could get bumped back to Columbus. However, all signs are that Salazar, following his breakout 2013, is going to open 2014 in Cleveland.
Harang certainly has a hill to climb, but it is not impossible. Look at a year ago when nobody would have though Jason Giambi, Scott Kazmir or Ryan Raburn would have broken camp with the club over younger players. All three turned out to be important pieces in Cleveland’s playoff run. Harang has a chance to show he, too, can turn the clock back. He started off the Cactus League season on a strong note with a scoreless inning against the Reds on Wednesday. The Indians may have brought him for depth, but he may be just an injury away or a faltering young pitcher away from getting another shot with another big league club.
Photo: Paul Sancya/Associated Press