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New M’s pitcher Harang likely to have low Ks, high HRs

By Brent Stecker

It didn’t take long for the Mariners to start tinkering with their pitching staff. A 5.47 team ERA and 4-7 record through Thursday necessitated an early change to the rotation, and the result is newly acquired starter Aaron Harang taking the place of Blake Beaven (8.44 ERA).

New M’s pitcher Aaron Harang posted sub-3.65 ERAs the past two seasons with the Dodgers and Padres. (AP)

Harang, who will make his season debut Tuesday after coming over from Colorado for minor-league reliever Steven Hensley, had a spell of dominance with the Cincinnati Reds in the middle of the last decade. But he is now 34, and even though he’s coming off back-to-back seasons of sub-3.65 ERAs, fans shouldn’t expect that kind of production from the veteran right-hander, FanGraphs senior writer Dave Cameron told 710 ESPN Seattle’s “Bob and Groz.”

Harang had the privilege of playing in pitcher-friendly National League parks in recent years — San Diego’s Petco Park in 2011 and Los Angeles’ Dodgers Stadium in 2012 — which covered up for the fact that he’s a fly-ball pitcher whose strikeouts have been on the decline.

“From 2005 to 2007, Harang was legitimately one of the best pitchers in the National League,” Cameron said. “He got four strikeouts for every walk — that’s a number Felix (Hernandez) doesn’t even get. Right now he’s down to a little bit below two, and when you’re not striking out twice as many guys as you walk, the only real way you succeed is not give up home runs. Well the easiest way to not give up home runs is get ground balls, (and) Aaron Harang doesn’t get ground balls either.”

In previous years, Harang could have found solace in the spacious confines of Safeco Field, but with the fences brought in this season, it has proven to be much more of a hitter’s park than in previous years.

“He didn’t give up home runs last year, but part of that’s the National League, part of that’s Dodgers Stadium, and part of that’s just luck,” said Cameron. “Harang’s ERA last year (3.61) was a lot of home run prevention, and that’s not likely to continue, especially moving to the American League, and Safeco’s fences have come in and looked pretty homer-friendly the last few days. I would expect as long as Harang is walking guys and not getting strikeouts, he’s not going to be anywhere near the 3.6 ERA he posted last year.”

The move to get Harang exposes a pitching problem the Mariners left Spring Training with.

“I think the pitching is certainly the biggest concern. Coming out of Spring Training, there (were) reasons to think the back of the rotation was gonna have some issues,” said Cameron. “There wasn’t a lot of depth there. … I think the back end of this rotation is bad, and they didn’t carry a long reliever at the beginning of the year. When you have a mediocre to bad rotation with some kids who aren’t ready to go more than five or six innings, you need a long reliever. I think that’s what they figured out, and that’s why they traded for Aaron Harang and why Blake Beavan’s probably headed to the bullpen.”

Beaven isn’t the only young Mariners starter who’s had a rough beginning to the 2013 season. Brandon Maurer, a 22-year-old rookie who hadn’t pitched higher than Double A before this season, has been roughed up in his first two starts (16.20 ERA) with the big club, though it appears the Mariners will continue to give him chances to prove himself as a Major League starter.