Tough-luck opener for Harang, Reds

Tough-luck opener for Harang, Reds

CINCINNATI -- One emphasis about Reds pitcher Aaron Harang's 2009 season is to make '08 -- when he went 6-17 with a 4.78 ERA -- look like just a glitch on the back of his baseball card after several strong seasons.

But most importantly, the Reds will likely go as far as their ace can take them. During Monday's 2-1 Opening Day loss to the Mets at Great American Ball Park, the right-hander wasn't sensational, but pitched well enough to give his team a chance to win. That was encouraging to Reds manager Dusty Baker.

"I love the way he pitched," Baker said. "His zip and velocity were back. He had a sharp breaking ball. He got some tough hitters out in some tough jams."

Winning was a task made much harder by Mets ace Johan Santana, a two-time Cy Young Award winner who limited Cincinnati's lineup to just three hits in his 5 2/3 innings. New York's bullpen retired 10 of the last 11 batters to prevent a comeback.

"We had a tough customer and one of the best in the business in Johan Santana," Baker said. "We played them tough."

Santana (1-0) overcame a bumpy beginning and gave up one earned run and three hits with four walks and seven strikeouts. Although he allowed three walks through two innings, the lefty held the Reds hitless until Jay Bruce hit a double to the left-center-field wall with two outs in the fourth.

Under frigid 37-degree conditions and showers that delayed the game's start by 13 minutes, Harang (0-1) threw a lot of pitches -- 114 -- in his five innings. Of the seven hits he allowed, only Daniel Murphy did serious damage, hitting a solo home run to right field on a 3-2 pitch with one out in the fifth.

"You get a 3-2 count, I'm not going to try to nitpick around it," Harang said. "I just went right at him and missed my spot. He hit the ball out of the ballpark."

Other than that, the Mets nitpicked Harang, who gave up two infield hits and three bloopers. They helped extend his pitch count into the higher stratosphere, including 32 pitches in the fourth.

"You're constantly having to pitch out of the stretch the whole time. You don't want to do that the whole game," said Harang, who gave up one earned run with three walks and two strikeouts. "I had to get out of some jams in the fourth and fifth inning. Some balls fell in. I fell behind a little bit and really had to battle."

The only other hard Mets hit, a single to right field by Carlos Beltran in the fifth, resulted in David Wright being called out at the plate after a two-hop throw from Bruce.

That was the only bright spot on a tough defensive day for the Reds' outfield. After Murphy's homer, two blooped hits that seemed catchable followed. After Carlos Delgado's single fell between diving shortstop Alex Gonzalez, left fielder Jerry Hairston and fill-in center fielder Darnell McDonald, boos were heard from the sellout crowd of 42,177 fans.

"There was some miscommunication between [McDonald] and Jerry out there, but they haven't been together that long," Baker said. "I don't know if they played together with Jerry in left and him in center all spring. Communication is the key. We have a good outfield, a real good outfield."

After Harang's departure, reliever Daniel Ray Herrera gave up Luis Castillo's one-out double in the sixth. Herrera walked two batters and loaded the bases, before Murphy's RBI groundout to first base provided what turned out to be the deciding run.

Cincinnati didn't score its run against Santana until the sixth. McDonald led off with a single to left field and went to third base on Joey Votto's single. Brandon Phillips' sacrifice fly to left field scored McDonald.

The Mets left 12 on base while the Reds stranded six in their limited chances.

"Today, we made some careless errors," Phillips said. "Things happen -- baserunning mistakes, walking some batters, the hitting -- we didn't come through. Santana did his job, and we'll have to get them on Wednesday."

The Reds' bullpen group of Mike Lincoln, Arthur Rhodes, David Weathers and Francisco Cordero was strong, but the Mets' bullpen was just as stingy.

"A lot of people don't get a lot of runs against Santana," Baker said. "Aaron matched him except for that home run he gave up to the youngster we don't know either. There weren't many negatives today. People look for negatives when you lose, but they played a good game and they beat us today."

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