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Harang hopes return to roots revives career

Harang hopes return to roots revives career

Harang hopes return to roots revives career
PEORIA, Ariz. -- It's highly unlikely that you'll ever catch Aaron Harang -- or, any other pitcher for that matter -- referring to spacious PETCO Park as a house of horrors, even though he might well have just cause.

Going from one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in baseball (Great America Ball Park in Cincinnati) to PETCO Park this season could potentially be a boon for Harang, who in December signed a one-year deal worth $4 million.

But a return to his native San Diego also means that Harang will pitch most of his games in a ballpark that was the site of his undoing with the Reds in 2008, when his right arm was taxed for 166 pitches (not including warmup tosses) in a four-game series.

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All told, Harang estimates that he threw close to 400 pitches, including warmup pitches, during a fitful eight-day stretch that started in San Diego with a 103-pitch start followed by a 63-pitch, four-inning relief outing three days later in an extra-inning game.

"That's not normal," Harang said.

Neither was Harang's recovery from throwing so many pitches in a short period of time.

Encumbered with a sore shoulder thereafter, Harang attempted to change his mechanics to alleviate the pain in his shoulder. In July, he landed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right forearm.

"I'm such a competitor, I was like, 'Just give me the ball, I'll get through it.' But it wore me out," Harang said. "I just never recovered from that. The next thing you know is my shoulder is fatigued and I'm changing arm slots. My mechanics were different."

In his estimation, Harang hasn't been right since. He had an appendectomy in 2009 and missed the final 42 games of the season and had two stints on the disabled list last year with back spasms.

Harang, who won 16 games in 2006 and again in 2007, went a combined 18-38 over his last three seasons with the Reds. In November, the Reds declined his $12.75 million option and he became a free agent.

Enter the Padres, the team Harang grew up watching and rooting for while first pitching at Patrick Henry High and later San Diego State University. Harang even attended one World Series game in 1998 at Jack Murphy Stadium, now Qualcomm Stadium.

"It's awesome," said Harang, who has essentially been beaming since signing with the Padres. "Just to be able to have that 'San Diego' across my chest means a lot to me. I know my wife and family are excited. It will be nice to have babysitters all the time."

Babysitters?

Harang's contract with the Padres in December certainly wasn't the only excitement in his house that month, as his wife, Jennifer, gave birth to twins -- a boy (Dustin) and girl (Kailey) on Dec. 17. The couple also have a daughter, 4-year-old Addison.

"Everything went well and they both came home with us when they were supposed to," Harang said. "It was a huge sigh of relief."

So will, he hopes, pitching in PETCO Park, a ballpark that suppresses offense perhaps more than any other ballpark in the Major Leagues. Mistakes can be made at PETCO Park. That wasn't the case at Great American Ball Park, where Harang allowed 108 home runs over 113 career games.

"You had to go in with the mentality that you're probably going to give up a home run. You tell yourself that's going to happen. If you make a mistake there, then you better make it with no one on base," Harang said.

"It was tough, but you had to go out there and be aggressive. You couldn't nibble around, because that's where you make mistakes. You've got to keep the ball down and let the defense play for you."

Pitching and defense, that's the Padres way.

"It's a good fit for a number of factors," Padres manager Bud Black said. "Coming back home, I think he's had a very good offseason as far as training. He's been extremely motivated to get back to a level of performance that he was accustomed to for a number of years there in Cincinnati.

"I think that with us there are some ballpark factors and some defense factors that will help his game and with that comes confidence."

Even before he arrived in Peoria, Harang had several phone conversations with pitching coach Darren Balsley about his mechanics and getting him back to the arm slot that he had during the time when he was successful for the Reds. They've also had talks about shortening his stride in his delivery.

"I feel good. And the first thing he said to me was he wanted me to get back to the old Aaron," Harang said. "I'm looking forward to a fresh start. I get to work with a good staff that wants me to get back where I was."

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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