- After his second start of the spring, Aaron Harang walked alongside a member of the Phillies' training staff in the inner sanctum of George M. Steinbrenner Field last night.
Harang, who turns 37 in May, has had to adjust his workouts in the last month. More stretching, more flexibility exercises.
Despite having logged just five Grapefruit League innings, and enduring back issues twice in the last month, Harang remains confident he can be slotted into his projected spot after Cole Hamels in the second game of the Phillies season, in 3 weeks at Citizens Bank Park.
"Obviously we just have to make sure nothing comes up," Harang said, "but the last few days I've felt great."
Harang signed a 1-year, $5 million free-agent deal in January to give the Phillies a proven veteran starter they could slot behind lefthanders Hamels and Cliff Lee. Lee is no longer in the picture, having cleaned out his locker in Clearwater and made his way to his home in Arkansas.
Lee has a tendon tear in his left elbow. He'll start the season on the 60-day disabled list and is a longshot to return at all.
Harang has battled his own physical issues this spring. But after three innings of work against the New York Yankees last night, Harang believes his back ailment is behind him.
"[It's] just maintenance, treatment with the trainers right now to make sure, staying on the flexibility to make sure no muscles are tightening up," he said.
"I think really, ultimately what it was was getting in the spikes again, being out and doing all the running around again. The hip flexors got a little upset with me and decided to tighten up. It's nothing - I'm not worried about it. And I've been feeling really good in the last few days. No feeling or semblance of what was going on."
But can he play catchup and jump right into the rotation when the season begins?
"He feels like he's right on schedule," manager Ryne Sandberg said.
With Lee already down, the Phillies could be looking at the likes of Kevin Slowey, Paul Clemens, Joely Rodriguez and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez at the fifth spot in their rotation. If Harang isn't ready, two of those pitchers could be making starts in early April.
But Harang thinks there is still time to get stretched out.
If he remains on his regular day, Harang can make three starts before Opening Day and then be right in line to pitch on April 8, in the second game of the season. Harang threw 37 pitches against the Yankees, and then added 15 more afterward in a bullpen session.
If he can throw 60-some pitches in his next start, and continue to progress toward 90-100 in his next two, Harang feels good about hitting the proverbial ground running when the regular season starts.
"It's not a big deal if I don't," Harang said of reaching 100 pitches in a start within the next 3 weeks. "I know what it takes. As long as I'm up there near the 90s adding another 15 or so isn't going to be a big deal. The biggest thing is the up-and-down between innings, sitting, getting cold, then hot. That's why I went down and threw a little more in the pen."
With a day off after the season opener, the Phillies do have the flexibility of going with four starters the first week of the season and pushing Harang back to April 12 if necessary. But the veteran righthander wasn't thinking that way yesterday - or of the daunting task of replacing Lee as the No. 2 starter on his new team.
"I'm not going to be putting any more pressure on myself," said Harang, who has averaged 174 innings per season in the last 4 years. "I'm just going to go out and do what I do, go out and give us a chance to win."
Harang retired the first four batters he faced last night before serving up a solo home run to Chase Headley. He allowed two runs (one earned) on two hits in three innings, with one strikeout and no walks.
"I felt good out there," said Harang, who's previous start came on March 9 in Sarasota. "Obviously a couple of mistakes. But still having that time off, I've got to go out and find that feel."
Both Cody Asche and Darin Ruf hit their first home runs of the spring as the Phillies went on to beat the Yankees, 7-3.