Ex-Red Aaron Harang revives career

Cox NewspapersApril 30, 2014 

  • Braves at Marlins

    When: 7:10 p.m. Wednesday

    Pitchers: Braves, Harang (3-1); Marlins, Eovaldi (1-1)

ATLANTA — Aaron Harang, the reconditioned pitcher, has a taste for taking what was tired and tattered and making it fresh again.

Whether it's leather: When the starter-strapped Braves picked up Harang this spring for only the price of a phone call, they got more than a convenient arm. They also acquired a skilled glove man — repair, that is. He has been stitching up mitts since he was a teen. Should a teammate need a quick fix, Harang and his repair kit are always on call.

Or steel: The son of a mechanic, Harang knows his way around an engine block. He grew up in the company of the garage project, helping dad bring some classic car back to life. He still has a penchant for the pre-talking-dashboard models. Parked back at his San Diego home is a restored 1966 Chevy Chevelle.

Then there's the most difficult medium of them all, his own self: A 35-year-old castoff just a month ago — and being unwanted by the Cleveland Indians is a special kind of rejection — Harang's first five starts with the Braves have bordered on the fantastic. Somehow, the guy's even better than new.

Bring in a forensic team to find his ERA (0.85, lowest in the majors). He leads baseball in OPS allowed (.409 on base percentage plus slugging percentage). He ranks second to Johnny Cueto, his former Reds teammate, in opponents' batting average (.143).

All this from a guy whose signing March 24 was greeted by a citywide muffled yawn.

Now he's looking like one of those ugly lamps on Antiques Roadshow that was bought at a garage sale, but turns out to be a rare Tiffany find.

Signed as a Band-Aid — the Braves lost pitchers Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to elbow injuries in spring training — Harang has become a pillar of the staff.

"There's a drive to want to go out there and be successful — maybe it's to prove people wrong," Harang said.

This wasn't exactly a human batting tee the Braves signed. He's a 113-game winner, was the Reds' opening-day pitcher five times and was fourth in the Cy Young voting in 2007. It's just that his career was heading down the dark alley of diminishing returns.

Currently there are only three questions about Harang's performance: How? Why? What the ... ?

"I just think he's pounding the strike zone," catcher Gerald Laird said. "He's always been a really good pitcher, and now I think he has something to prove. Maybe he's trying to earn a job for next year. He is one of those guys who has been good in the past, he knows what he's doing. "

One of the first impressions his Braves teammates gathered of Harang was of him sitting in the dugout before a game taking apart his glove as if performing an autopsy on it. He didn't like the color of the leather lacing, so he deconstructed the thing and sewed it back together with a more aesthetically pleasing look.

Glove repair and reconditioning was something of a cottage industry for Harang when he was younger. His father took out ads in various Little League fliers and drummed up all the business his son wanted. Wherever he has played, he has kept his repair tools in his locker. Chris Van Zant, the Braves equipment guy in charge of emergency glove work, now has an assistant.

Harang has put those skills in play regularly, most recently during last season's stopover in Seattle. A catcher's glove had ripped. Let me take care of that, the new pitcher offered.

"He looked at me like I was nuts. 'I'm not letting a pitcher touch my glove,'" Harang said.

"I said, 'Fine, but I stand by my work because if it breaks when I'm pitching, you know who to come blame.'"

Later that same game, the catcher was reunited with his favorite glove.

"And he was like, 'Man, you do good work.'"

That's Harang's specialty now, making people overcome their surprise and arrive at that same realization.

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