If Aaron Harang throwing the first complete-game shutout of the Seattle Mariners’ season seemed unlikely, what were the odds that he also would throw the team’s second complete-game shutout?
They weren’t quite as long as purchasing a winning Powerball ticket, or even the longest shot in any of the Triple Crown races.
But after his last outing — a forgettable 2 innings against the Yankees in which he gave up six runs on eight hits — it seemed unlikely that Harang could go out and throw nine scoreless innings against any team, even the hapless Houston Astros.
But that’s what the 35-year-old right-hander did in Tuesday night’s 4-0 win at Safeco Field.
Showing a fastball with good life and exceptional command, Harang cruised through nine
innings against the Astros, giving up two hits and striking out a season-high 10 in front of an announced crowd of 10,266 — the second-smallest in Safeco history.
Harang, who improved to 3-6 with a 5.60 earned-run average, has two complete-game shutouts this season, while Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma — the Mariners’ two best pitchers — have none.
Baseball is an odd game.
“He was fantastic,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said of Harang. “When he commands his fastball and it rides like it was tonight, and he’s able to leverage it downhill and climb with it when he wants to, he’s real good.”
With the Astros content to swing early and often, Harang got into a nice rhythm and retired 17 of the first 18 batters he faced, giving up a two-out single to J.D. Martinez in the second inning.
“I felt good today,” Harang said. “I was able to locate my fastball early in the count and get ahead. The slider was working well. I was able to throw it for strikes, and I was also able to throw it as a put-away pitch, too.”
A two-out error by Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan on a hard ground ball from Brandon Barnes put a runner on in the sixth, but Harang got a quick groundout from Jason Castro to end the inning.
In the eighth inning, Martinez ripped a leadoff single to left, but he never got to second.
Trevor Crowe popped out to third, Matt Dominguez lined out and Ronny Cedeno struck out looking on Harang’s 107th pitch of the night.
“I came back in and saw I was just over 100 pitches, and I felt good, and I told Wedge, ‘I want to try and finish this,’” Harang said.
Wedge didn’t put up much of a fight.
“This is a veteran guy that’s been through it and throwing a two-hitter at the time,” Wedge said. “I talked to him. But he felt good about going back out there, so we wanted to give him that opportunity.”
Harang worked a quick ninth, setting down the Astros’ 1-2-3 hitters with ease to notch his eighth career shutout.
“It’s definitely nice to come in and get to go back out for that ninth inning,” Harang said.
Harang’s season has been an odd one. Since he was signed a month into the season, he has had the two shutouts, but he also has failed to last more than four innings in three starts.
Wedge believes it’s largely about the fastball command and working off that. In those awful outings, Harang couldn’t find that command early and couldn’t make an in-game adjustment to rectify the situation.
“Some days you go out there and you feel great, and you feel like you can throw every pitch for a strike whenever you want in any count,” Harang said. “There’s other days when you pray you can throw one pitch for a strike.”
With Harang throwing up zeroes, the Mariners, who have struggled to score in the last few weeks, only needed one run.
They got it in the first inning. Endy Chavez led off with a double and advanced to third when Cedeno misplayed the throw from the outfield. Chavez later scored on a wild pitch from Bud Norris.
Nick Franklin made a similar read to Chavez in the second after his leadoff double to right field. This time, Crowe’s throw was wide of Cedeno, and Franklin advanced to third. He later scored on Michael Saunders’ sacrifice fly.
“You’ve got to do it,” Wedge said of the baserunning. “If you are not banging the baseball around, situationally you have got to be better. You have to execute. You’ve got to play heads-up baseball. Those are things you’ve got to do anyway, but they are that much more important when you aren’t banging the ball around.”
Raul Ibañez banged out his 13th homer of the season, a solo shot to left-center in the sixth to push the lead to 3-0. Kyle Seager added more insurance with an RBI single in the eighth.Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish