So who had Aaron Harang as the Seattle Mariners’ starting pitcher most likely to throw the first complete game shutout of the season?
The list of people, who thought that would happen, had to be pretty minimal and might not even include Harang himself, considering his struggles this season.
But that’s what the 34-year-old right-hander did to the San Diego Padres – one of his former teams – Monday at Safeco Field.
Harang pitched nine scoreless innings, giving up four hits, while striking out eight and walking two to get the win. It was the seventh shutout of his career and the first since April 12, 2009 against Pittsburgh. He is the first Mariners to throw a shutout since Felix Hernandez shut out the Twins on Aug. 27 of 2012.
“Aaron was outstanding today,” manager Eric Wedge said. “You could tell early on he had good stuff. The biggest difference is that he’s hitting his spots. He did a great job with his fastball on both sides of the plate, elevating it every now and then. He did a great job of controlling the bullpen.”
With the Mariners bullpen being largely overworked the last 10 games – Harang being a major contributor to that reliever fatigue – going the complete game was certainly a welcomed performance.
“That’s ultimately what we all hope to do when we take the mound,” Harang said. “If the bullpen guys do have to come in, maybe it’s just one guy or two guys. They’ve been picking up the slack up for us lately.”
They had to for Harang in New York when a stiff back forced him to miss a start. He made it just 3 2/3 innings in his next start in Anaheim.
But he tried to make up for it with nine innings instead.
“It’s a veteran guy stepping up for us with the way we’ve been working the bullpen,” Wedge said.
After giving up a lead-off double, Harang retired the next 11 hitters in a row and didn’t allow another hit till the seventh inning when Chase Headley led off with a single.
Of course, Harang pitched with optimal run support on the day.
The Mariners gave him a 4-0 lead in the first inning off of Padres starter Clayton Richard (0-5).
Jason Bay led off the bottom of the first with a solo home run to right-center to give the Mariners a quick 1-0 lead. It was the first time in his career he’d led off the game with a homer. Seattle tacked on three more. Kyle Seager drew a walk and Kendrys Morales doubled to right and Michael Morse allowed them to trot home when he crushed a Richard fastball to right-center for his team-high 11th home run of the season.
“Jason Bay did a great job of being aggressive and staying in the middle of the field with his first at-bat leading off,” Wedge said. “And there were just good at-bats after that, from Seager to Morales to the big shot from Morse.”
The Mariners continued to add to the lead
Kelly Shoppach hit his third homer of the season – a solo shot – to lead off the fourth. Seattle blew the game open more in the seventh, scoring four runs off of relieer Anthony Bass. Morales had the big hit, dropping a two-run single into left for his third hit of the day.
“Morales had a great day,” Wedge said. “He had great at-bats all day long.”
Morales now has a seven game hitting streak and is hitting .500 (16-for-32) with seven doubles and a home run and nine RBI in that span.
“I’m working in the cages and grinding more and more,” Morales said through translator Jaime Navarro. “I feel comfortable now and I’m where I want to be. It’s just going to get better and better.”
Given all that run support, Harang’s job was simple – throw strikes.
“The big thing was coming out and pounding the strike zone and getting ahead in the count,” Harang said. “They are an aggressive team and they were coming out swinging. I was able to get them to put the ball in play within the first few pitches.”
Harang was at 94 pitches after eight innings, but he told Wedge and pitching coach Carl Willis he wanted the to start the ninth.
“I felt really good,” Harang said. “Eric and Carl both asked me how I felt, and I said, ‘good, I’m going to finish it.’”
And he did so, striking out Chase Headley after a long at-bat, striking out Carlos Quentin and getting Yonder Alonso to pop out to right.