If Aaron Harang throwing the first complete game shutout of the Mariners season seemed unlikely, what were the odds that he would do it again?
They weren’t quite as long as purchasing a winning Powerball ticket or even the worst longshot in any of the three Triple Crown races.
But after his last outing – a forgettable 2 1/3 innings outing against the Yankees where he gave up six run 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 exactly what the 35-year-old right-hander did on Tuesday night at Safeco Field.
Showing a fastball with good life and exceptional command, Harang cruised through nine innings against the Astros, not allowing a run and giving up just two hits, while striking out a season-high 10 batters in a 4-0 win for the Mariners. The second smallest crowd in Safeco history of 10,266 saw got see it.
So on the season, Harang, who is now 3-6 with a 5.60 earned run average after his stellar outing, has two complete game shutouts, while Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma – the Mariners’ two best pitchers - have none.
Baseball is a very odd game.
“He was fantastic,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “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.”
Harang was good and efficient. With the Astros’ hitters content to swing early and often, Harang got into a nice rhythm and started retiring batters. He retired 17 of the first 18 batters he faced, giving up just 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 Brendan Ryan on a hard ground ball from Brandon Barnes put on a runner on first in the sixth inning, but Harang got quick ground ball out from Jason Castro to end the inning.
In the eighth inning, Martinez ripped a lead-off single to left. But he never even got to second. Trevor Crowe popped out to third, Matt Dominguez lined out and Ronny Cedeno struck out looking to end the inning.
At 107 pitches after eight innings, Harang wanted to finish that game.
“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 1-2-3 ninth, setting down the Astros No. 2-3-4 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’s had the two shutouts, but also had three starts where’s failed to more than four innings.
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, there’s other days when you pray you can throw one pitch for a strike,” Harang said.
With Harang throwing up zeroes, the Mariners, who are struggling to score runs in the last few weeks, only need to manufacture one run. They got four.
Seattle pushed one across in the first inning as Endy Chavez led off the inning with a double and advanced to third when Cedeno misplayed the throw in from the outfield. Chavez later scored on a wild pitch from starter Bud Norris.
Nick Franklin made a similar read to Chavez in the second inning after his lead-off double to right field. This time the throw from Crowe 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 base running. “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 Ibanez 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 some insurance with an RBI single in the eighth.