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Call-up baffles Rays hitters in his debut

A'S 6, RAYS 0: Tampa Bay can't solve young starter Aaron Harang.

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published May 26, 2002

They hardly could do anything against the 24-year-old making his big-league debut, finishing the afternoon with three hits, a season-high 13 strikeouts and a 6-0 loss that was among their most feeble performances of the season.

About the only thing left was to enjoy a night in San Francisco and hope a better day was ahead, knowing a win today over A's ace Barry Zito would allow them to finish their hazardous 13-day cross-country journey to New York, Baltimore, Seattle and Oakland with a 6-6 record.

"If we win (today) it will be a good road trip," manager Hal McRae said. "Any time you play .500 on the road it's a good trip, especially against the clubs we played. And if you could have guaranteed me .500 before we left, I'd say, "Yes, I'd take it.' .500 would be a good trip."

"If we can go .500 I think we can go back to Tampa with some confidence and something to build on," second baseman Brent Abernathy said. "It's definitely not going to be easy facing Zito, but it doesn't matter who's going to be on the mound. We've got to put up some runs for our pitchers."

That certainly would be a good place to start.

Saturday, they managed three singles in seven innings against Harang, a 1999 sixth-round pick who made a Joe Kennedy-like rise from Double A to Triple A to the majors in the past six weeks.

They got one runner as far as second and, aside from the singles, hit only four balls out of the infield, striking out 10 times.

It was the sixth time the Rays were shut out this season, matching Kansas City for the American League high, and the sixth time they were held to three hits or fewer.

"We didn't generate any offense whatsoever," McRae said. "The offense has struggled all year. Really, it's been a two-year struggle."

And that's just the part he has seen.

Harang, a 6-foot-7, 245-pounder, had a lot to do with it Saturday. He threw hard, regularly in the low 90s and as fast as 95 on occasion, and routinely threw the ball high and across the plate.

"He was very, very sneaky with his fastball," Abernathy said. "We noticed that in the first inning, the three of us that hit came back saying how quickly the ball got on top of you.

"I'm sure that had a lot to do with how big he is and also that he throws from right around the shoulder. That was one of the reasons we were swinging at so many high fastballs out of the zone. You think you'd see it good and by the time you got the bat head through the zone it's already past you."

Said Steve Cox: "It was kind of tough to lay off and kind of tough to hit."

The Rays didn't have a scouting report or video on Harang, but it didn't take long to figure out what he was doing. It was their inability to adjust to it, to force Harang to come down in the zone by taking the high pitches, that cost them.

McRae, though, said he didn't consider it a poor effort by his hitters but more of an extraordinary performance by Harang. "I've seen guys pitch like that before," McRae said. "Jim Palmer was a guy, Denny McLain, Gary Nolan. That's the way they pitched, just above the zone."

Travis Harper kept the Rays in the game, though the two-run homer he allowed to Jermaine Dye on a hanging curve put them behind in the second. A misplay by Randy Winn cost them a run in the fourth, but it was within reach until Jorge Sosa's rough eighth inning doubled the margin to 6-0.

It doesn't sound good for the Rays today since they've lost their past six to the A's and 18 of 23 at the Network Associates Coliseum, and are winless in two starts against Zito.

But they have Kennedy, coming off his complete-game masterpiece, on the mound.

"We've got to put up some runs," Abernathy said. "We aren't swinging the bats real well right now and it's been a long couple of weeks, so the key for us is to come out, and I know we're facing tough pitching, but come out just swinging and try to put up some runs."

"We've had a pretty decent road trip, and it would be nice to go home on a win," Cox said. "It's a long flight, even longer when you lose."

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