For the first five innings of Tuesday night's 6-4 win over the Indians, Ron Washington's decision to give Matt Harrison a couple of extra days of rest looked like a masterstroke.
The Harrison of old was dealing, getting strikeouts and groundouts in bunches as the Indians made their way back to the dugout as quickly as they appeared in the batters box. Harrison didn't allow a hit until the fifth and got through that inning with a 5-1 lead.
Harrison looked totally out of gas in his last couple of outings. His arm angle was lower than it had been earlier in the year, an illustration of the problems he was facing when it came to summoning the proper energy on the mound. The poor results that followed were no surprise and it's clearly a relief to see that a different approach to managing his work can lead to a resurgence.
It was a very reassuring outing for the Rangers rotation, which can use last year's experience as a guide for just how important it is to get good starting pitching come October. By the end of the postseason last year, the Rangers bullpen was running on fumes because of how often they were forced to rescue a starter who faltered early in a game.
Not everything was so rosy. Harrison came back out for the sixth and things started going sideways. He gave up a hit, got a double play on a fairly well struck ball by Carlos Santana and then was gone from the game after a couple more hits. Alexi Ogando got the Rangers out of the inning, but Harrison was done after just 87 pitches and allowing six of the final nine hitters he faced to reach base.
That looked a lot like a pitcher with nothing left in the tank, which is worrisome because of what's happened this year and what happened last year. Harrison's early strength proved the benefit of a little extra time off, but his late struggle showed that fatigue hasn't been totally eradicated from his left arm.
And, based on his performance in the playoffs last year, that fatigue isn't likely to disappear between now and October. Harrison couldn't pitch more than five innings in any of his four playoff starts, leading to the aforementioned overuse of relievers and, ultimately, a bitter end to the season.
The Rangers should continue to manage Harrison in order to get the most out of him as possible the rest of the way. What's less clear is whether it will wind up making any difference if Harrison's in need of resuce in the sixth inning of a game against a team as putrid as the Indians.