Harang an old hand at Opening Day hoopla

Harang an old hand at Opening Day hoopla

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- As Aaron Harang prepares to start his fifth consecutive Opening Day for the Reds, there's no hoopla he hasn't experienced and no conditions he hasn't endured, including a visit from a sitting President of the U.S.

The season opener is like a local holiday for Cincinnati, which has the oldest franchise in professional baseball. Fans often call in sick to work and kids leave school so they can see both the game and the pregame Findlay Market Opening Day Parade. More fan attention can often be given to the opener than to the other 161 games.

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"I've done it four times. I know what to expect now," Harang said. "If you had asked me the first time I was going into this, I wouldn't have told you what I was trying to do. That's the thing: Opening Day, you have to make adjustments. The last two years, it's been rain delays. The first year, it was freezing cold."

That first year, 2006, the temperature outside Great American Ball Park was in the 30s. Inside, President George W. Bush was preparing to throw the ceremonial first pitch. The Secret Service had locked down everything around the clubhouse.

"Once [Bush] came in, we weren't allowed to leave," Harang said. "I said, 'Hey, I have to get ready to pitch.' "

The only thing Harang hasn't experienced on Opening Day is a no-decision, as he is 1-3 with a 3.52 ERA in his previous openers. This could also be his last opener and season with the Reds, since he's in the final year of his four-year, $36.5 million contract. There is, however, a $12.75 million club option for 2011.

Cincinnati Reds
Projected Opening Day lineup
1 CF Chris Dickerson
2 SS Orlando Cabrera
3 1B Joey Votto
4 2B Brandon Phillips
5 3B Scott Rolen
6 RF Jay Bruce
7 LF Laynce Nix
8 C Ramon Hernandez
9 P Aaron Harang
Projected rotation
1 RHP Aaron Harang
2 RHP Johnny Cueto
3 RHP Bronson Arroyo
4 RHP Homer Bailey
5 RHP Mike Leake
Projected bullpen
CL RHP Francisco Cordero
SU RHP Nick Masset
SU LHP Arthur Rhodes
SU RHP Logan Ondrusek
MI LHP Daniel Ray Herrera
MI RHP Mike Lincoln
MI RHP Micah Owings
Full 25-man roster | Depth chart

This fifth consecutive Opening Day assignment ties the club record 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.

Harang was the undisputed ace of the Reds' rotation in 2006 and '07, winning 16 games both seasons, but he hit hard times the past two seasons, going a combined 12-31.

Despite working on improved mechanics with new pitching coach Bryan Price, Harang didn't put up sterling numbers in Spring Training: a 1-3 record and 9.88 ERA in four starts. He was touched for seven runs and five runs over his final two tuneups.

But that doesn't concern Harang, who confidently proclaimed himself ready for the regular season.

"I feel great," he said. "This is the best I've felt in Spring Training. The outcome is not what you want or expect, but it doesn't count. It's about getting me ready for the long haul of the season. Overall, I feel very comfortable with all of the stuff I've done with my mechanics. I feel like the ball is coming out really well. It's a matter of taking it in and stretching it out throughout the game come Monday."

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