With only seven days left until the beginning of the 2014 season, the Atlanta Braves still didn’t have their starting rotation solidified. Freddy Garcia was slated to fill in with the staff decimated by injuries, but Garcia was getting hit hard in the Grapefruit League. The Braves made the decision to release Garcia and signed veteran Aaron Harang to complete the rotation. Clearly, the organization made the right choice.
Harang kept a no-hitter going into the seventh inning for the second time this year, finishing his outing against the New York Mets with a line of 7 IP, 0 H, 6 BB, 5 K, and 0 R. The Braves’ offense provided Harang just one run through the first seven innings, though the four insurance runs they added in the eighth weren’t even needed. David Wright broke up the no-hitter off Luis Avilan in the bottom of the eighth, but the outcome of the game was never really in doubt.
No one can say they expected this type of start to the season from Harang, himself included. His best season came eight years ago, when he went 16-6 for the Cincinnati Reds and finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting. In the three years after, Harang went 18-38 with a 4.71 ERA before being run out of town. After a decent comeback year with the San Diego Padres in 2011, Harang bounced around the league and appeared to be near retirement.
Yet here he is, pitching as well as anybody in baseball. The 35-year-old Harang can still pump his fastball in the low-90’s, and he compliments it with a heavy sinker and slider. He mixed those pitches beautifully against the Mets, keeping their hitters off balance throughout the night. The only time he faced any trouble, when he walked two men in the bottom of the sixth, he froze Curtis Granderson with a fastball that cut back over the inside corner to end the inning.
With a quality start in his next outing, Harang could make a compelling case for NL Pitcher of the Month. Still, it seems highly unlikely he will keep up this pace for the whole season. His career ERA of 4.25 is roughly 3.5 runs higher than his ERA this April. Against better offensive teams than the Mets, the high walk rate he’s shown early this year will likely come back to hurt him.
For now though, Harang is one of the best stories in baseball. The Braves thought they were just getting a guy to eat innings. Instead, they picked up the hottest pitcher in the game right off the street.