Saturday, March 13, 1999

Harnisch gets roughed up


But still on track for Opening Day

BY CHRIS HAFT
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[harnisch]
Pete Harnisch watches a fly ball to right
(AP photo)

| ZOOM |
        ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The box score will declare Pete Harnisch wavered off his course toward a probable Opening Day start for the Reds. In reality, he's following a predictable path.

        Harnisch knew after making the art of pitching look unfairly easy in his first two spring appearances, he would have an outing such as Friday's against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, when he struggled through four innings in the Reds' 5-2 Grapefruit League loss at Florida Power Park.

        He also sensed that more adversity is forthcoming — the dreaded “dead-arm” stage that all pitchers endure for about a week-to-10 days shortly before the season begins.

        Then, Harnisch's resilient right arm will respond to the proper care and feeding it'll receive, and he'll be ready to face the San Francisco Giants on April 5 at Cinergy Field. Manager Jack McKeon hasn't officially named Harnisch to start the game, but Denny Neagle's slow progress from a weak shoulder makes it virtually certain.

        “I've been through it 10 times,” Harnisch said of the spring routine. “Those are things you live through and learn from. I know what to expect. It's not a panic situation.”

        If anything, Harnisch didn't feel enough of a sense of urgency against the Devil Rays. Though established, secure veterans such as Harnisch don't perform in March with regular-season intensity, he believed he could have approached this game with a little more urgency.

        Then again, retiring 24 of 27 hitters has a way of deadening a pitcher's nerves. Those numbers detailed Harnisch's dominance in eight scoreless innings spanning his first two appearances.

        “I don't think I had the focus I should have,” said Harnisch, who yielded two runs and five hits while walking four and striking out one. “If you relax your concentration level, you're not going to get anything accomplished.”

        But Harnisch, who overcame shoulder injuries and clinical depression to become the Reds' top winner last year with a 14-7 record, can use a subpar game as motivation.

        “It's a kick in the butt a little bit,” he said. “You get right back in there and work on stuff.”

        That's never been a problem for Harnisch, 32. A nearly constant source of humor with his bellowing voice and quick wit, he enhances his clubhouse presence by exercising himself to exhaustion regularly.

        “He's one of the hardest workers in camp as far as conditioning and what he needs to do to get ready. He's a professional,” Reds pitching coach Don Gullett said. “Guys look up to him because of his work ethic, desire to win and his tenacious attitude. That's the type of leadership you need on a ball club. He keeps guys loose, but when he's on the field, it's all business.”

        Harnisch already realizes what his business between starts will entail. First, he must continue to hone the subtleties of his pitching delivery.

        “I'm not proud of the way I threw the ball. It was pretty ugly out there,” he said. “But it happens. I'm not worried about it. You have a couple of really good outings where it's so easy to go strike one, strike two, and you're in such a fine groove. It's really easy to slip out of that.”

        He also must practice throwing from the stretch position, which he rarely had to do while sailing through his first two starts. “I'm not really comfortable,” he said. By contrast, Harnisch recorded no perfect innings against the Devil Rays while allowing RBI singles to Aaron Ledesma and Paul Sorrento in the third inning.

        Harnisch concluded his afternoon in shaky yet effective fashion, leaving the bases loaded in the fourth.

        When someone suggested that working out of that jam was a positive sign, he dismissed the notion with another veteran's observation.

        “The only positive you can take out of a day like this,” he said, “is if you stretch (your endurance) out pretty good.”

        Harnisch threw 72 pitches, up from 52 in his previous start. Mission accomplished.

       



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