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Rangers opening day starter Harrison set for back surgery

Associated Press

4/19/2013 6:23:13 PM

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Matt Harrison tried to pitch through lower back soreness his first two starts this season for the Texas Rangers. He then got two epidural injections and a second opinion when he went on the disabled list.

Despite all that, the Rangers' opening-day starter still won't be able to avoid surgery.

General manager Jon Daniels said Friday that Harrison, on the disabled list because of an inflamed nerve in his back, is scheduled for an operation Tuesday to repair a herniated disk. The left-hander likely won't be back in the rotation until after the All-Star break.

"The treatments we tried to do didn't work. It's unfortunate," Harrison said. "I'm trying to stay positive through this and look forward to getting this taken care of and getting this thing back on track and getting back healthy and playing ball again. ... This is pretty much last resort for getting it right "

An 18-game winner and All-Star last season, Harrison still was having problems after the epidural injections in his back.

"Unfortunately the symptoms are not responding the way we hoped they would," Daniels said. "The percentages with this kind of surgery are very good but we want to get through it and make sure it goes as expected before we put any hard timetable on it."

Harrison, in the first season of a $55 million, five-year contract, never had any back problems before this spring, when he first felt something wrong while running. But he kept pushing through, and symptoms got worse.

Despite stiffness in his back causing numbness and weakness in his left leg, Harrison made his first two starts. He lost both, giving up a pair of two-run homers in the first inning of the second one, and had an 8.44 ERA before going on the disabled list after that last start April 7.

"I thought I could make adjustments and pitch through it. But it just wasn't working. The biggest thing was the weakness in my leg," Harrison said. "The release point was inconsistent every pitch. I just couldn't find any way to make it consistent. I'm not doing the team any favours by trying to pitch through it. So I might as well get it right."

Harrison flew to Los Angeles a week ago for a second opinion. His surgery in Texas will be done by Dr. Drew Dossett.

Daniels said Harrison is "particularly important to us" and that the surgery now is the best thing for him and the team "rather than wait and waste two or three weeks when it doesn't seem like rehab was going to be effective."

The news of Harrison's pending surgery came on the same day that veteran right-hander Colby Lewis, who is recovering from elbow surgery, threw live batting practice. Daniels said Lewis will have one or two more similar sessions before an extended spring game and then a rehabilitation assignment.

Right-hander Justin Grimm allowed two runs over four innings in his first start for Harrison before a rainout wiped out his second scheduled start Wednesday. Grimm is scheduled to pitch Sunday in the series finale against Seattle after rookie right-hander Nick Tepesch (1-1, 3.46 ERA) starts Saturday night.

Daniels said there are no plans to make any changes in the rotation at this point for the Rangers, who haven't lost a series this season.

The only other surgery Harrison has had was in 2009, when he was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, which affects the nerves that pass through the shoulder into the neck. He had surgery to remove a rib on the left side of his upper chest and came back strong from that.

Harrison is already focusing on what he will have to do to get back on the mound after the back surgery. He expects a recovery time of two to three months.

"I'm definitely frustrated because I'm not out there and doing what I love to do on an everyday basis. But at the same time, I didn't have any control over what happened," Harrison said. "It's not like I jumped off a roof trying to jump in a pool or doing something stupid. It just happened. So, I try to stay through it. ... Hopefully I can have a speedy recovery and get through this rehab."