For the Reds, an ace is played again

Through all his trials and tribulations, about the only person in the realm of the Cincinnati Reds who wasn't worried about Aaron Harang was Aaron Harang.

After he lost 31 games (and won 12) in 2008 and 2009, then began this season 0-3, most suggestions concerning Harang dealt with demotion to the minors (he is out of options), demotion to the bullpen, shipment to another team, outright release – any sort of banishment to baseball Siberia.

They thought Harang put the 'less' in hopeless.

Through it all, Harang never changed and never wavered in his belief that the next win was just around the corner, never believing when he turned that corner he might meet an uncoming 18-wheeler.

That elusive win came Tuesday night in Houston when Harang put together a quality start – six innings, two runs, eight hits, one walk and six strikeouts in a 6-2 win.

To Harang, it was simple – just a matter of being aggressive, throwing quality strikes, staying ahead of the hitters. It is something he said that he battled early this season.

When he was 0-3 after four starts, a few members of the media figured manager Dusty Baker might skip Harang's start in Houston because his normal turn fell on Monday.

Baker would have none of it.

"This man is being paid handsomely ($14 million this year) to be a starter and we need him to win," said Baker. "And who do we have to take his place? We need him. Plus it was only four starts. If it was 14 starts, it would be a different thing."

In 2006 and 2007, Harang won 16 games both years, pitched more than 230 innings and struck out 216 and 218. His ERA for those two seasons was 3.80. This was a quality pitcher, an ace, the leader of the pack.

Then came the next two seasons and his ERAs zoomed to 4.78 and 4.21 and the losses mounted like stacked cars in a junkyard.

After his 2008 season, the 6-7 right-hander decided that shedding weight, from 270 to 250, might help. It didn't. This season he has tinkered with his stride, shortening it a bit.

Some trace his demise to a game in late 2007 when the Reds were in San Diego and Baker ran out of pitchers in an extra-inning game. Harang, who started two days previously, was used in relief. Then, two days later, Harang made his regular start.

He hasn't been the same since. But Baker and Harang say it has nothing to do with his current dilemma.

Harang's velocity remains the same and he says it is more that he got away from being aggressive, especially early in the count.

And there are other factors. Harang is often victimized by a lack of offensive support, half his games are in the cozy dimensions of Great American Ball Park, and with Harang's modus operandi as a fly ball pitcher he gives up home runs – 35 in 2008 and 24 last year.

Harang once kiddingly said, "They need to tear down about 10 rows of the right field bleachers and move the fence back or put a high screen on top of that wall."

Slightly more seriously, he noted: "Sometimes it is just bad luck," he said. "That's one of those weird things about this game. This game is about luck and it was just a bad spell. We live close enough to Kentucky that you'd think I'd find a horseshoe somewhere."

What Harang believes most is that he needs better command, better location, quality pitches and he got away from that.

"I think of myself as a control pitcher," he said. I can get it up in the mid-90s once in a while, but I just try to change speeds and hit my spots."

Whatever it is, or was, Harang hopes what he did in Houston Tuesday carries over to his start Sunday in St. Louis, and through the rest of the season.