Harang gets Opening Day nod for Reds

Harang gets Opening Day nod

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Unlike the past few years, there was more discussion and more than a hint of doubt over who would be the Reds' Opening Day starter and ace of the rotation.

But in the end, it will be the same pitcher who had done it the previous four times -- Aaron Harang. The right-hander will face the Cardinals on April 5 at Great American Ball Park.

Although the choice to go with Harang is tried and true, it's not the conventional decision this time around. He is coming off of back-to-back six-win seasons, while Bronson Arroyo has won 15 games each of the past two years.

"I know it probably won't be a popular decision," manager Dusty Baker said on Wednesday. "But talking to both of them, Harang seems to pitch better against top pitchers. After Day 1, it doesn't matter anyway."

Harang's fifth straight Opening Day assignment would tie the club record for most consecutive first-game starts held by Pete Donohue (1923-27) and Mario Soto, who did it from 1982-86. Soto holds the overall club record of six Opening Day starts.

Opening Day is considered sacred to Reds fans because of the club's lengthy tradition. Cincinnati is the oldest professional franchise in baseball, and that status has given it the privilege of getting to open at home with a day game each season.

"I'm excited about it," Harang said. "You definitely have to have a different approach on Opening Day because of all the hoopla and stuff that's going around the game."

Baker and pitching coach Bryan Price informed Harang of their decision on Tuesday after meeting with both Harang and Arroyo. The group talked about it together, and Harang and Arroyo also talked privately about it.

"I said, 'If it's out there, I want the ball. I want to be your guy,'" Harang said he told Baker. "[Bronson and I] both talked about it before we even went in there. I wasn't over there trying to make him feel different.

"Do I think Bronson deserves to start Opening Day? Yeah, definitely for what he's shown the past couple of years."

2010 Spring Training - null
Sights & Sounds
Spring Training Info

A couple of weeks ago, when camp first opened, Baker did not know who he'd give the ball to for the opener. The decision ultimately came down to the fact that, as much as Harang wanted the assignment, Arroyo also wasn't all that interested in being the Reds' No. 1 starter.

"If I had my choice, I'd rather pitch two or three," Arroyo said. "Cincinnati is one of the few places that Opening Day is really like a holiday. For that reason, it's probably a little tough to concentrate on that day. There's so much stuff going on. I'd rather enjoy that day, soak in all the festivities and pitch the next day or day after that."

"Nobody is more honest than Bronson," Baker said. "You might not like his answers. His answers will be honest. I love that. I ask a question, I want an honest answer. That's the reason you communicate and talk to your players."

Baker also set the top four spots of Cincinnati's rotation. After Harang will be Johnny Cueto, followed by Arroyo, Homer Bailey and the still-unnamed fifth starter.

There was reason behind the decision to split up Harang and Arroyo in the order.

"So you don't tax your bullpen," Baker said. "Harang, you know will give you innings. Cueto is not as consistent. Arroyo is consistent. Homer, you don't know. The fifth starter, you don't know. You want to break up those guys, because what if you had Arroyo and Harang back-to-back and the next three guys aren't pitching well? You're going to kill your bullpen. When you get back to Harang, you'll have to stick with him longer because your bullpen is already spent."

Harang won 16 games in both 2006 and '07 and was among National League leaders in wins, innings, starts and strikeouts. But struggles and injuries set him way back the past two seasons. In 2008-09, he was a combined 12-31 with a 4.52 ERA.

Last season was particularly trying, as Harang finished 6-14 with a 4.21 ERA in 162 1/3 innings with 142 K's. His year ended in August because he had his appendix removed. In 13 starts from May 30-Aug. 3, Harang endured a nine-game losing streak.

Over three of his past four seasons with the Reds, Arroyo has won at least 14 games. He posted a 15-13 record with a 3.84 ERA in 33 starts in 2009.

Arroyo also isn't a fan of pitching day games and has a better record when working at night. However, his first start on April 8 vs. St. Louis will be a day game.

"I told Dusty I'd pitch anywhere he wants me to pitch," Arroyo said. "It doesn't matter -- one through five -- it's fine by me. You can put a label on whatever you want -- I will take the ball 34 times. It doesn't matter."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.