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Harang must compete for 5th straight Opening Day start

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Right-hander Aaron Harang isn’t assured of making another opening day start for the Cincinnati Reds.

Manager Dusty Baker said Friday that he’s open-minded about who will start the opener. Harang has started the past four, but his struggles to win games during the past two seasons have thrown the No. 1 spot open to competition this time around.

“We’re in a performance-based occupation, like most, but probably even more,” Baker said. “It’s a big responsibility to be a No. 1, you know?”

The 31-year-old Harang has gone 1-3 with a 3.52 ERA in his four opening day starts. Mario Soto and Pete Donohue share the club record with five consecutive season-opening starts. Soto has six overall, the most in team history.

Harang has won only six games in each of the past two seasons, when injuries and an appendectomy held him back. Bronson Arroyo led the staff in wins last season with 15.

In Baker’s first two seasons as manager, Harang knew he would be No. 1 in the rotation from the time that training camp opened.

“The whole opening day thing?” Harang said. “They decide what they’re going to decide. I’m here to pitch every fifth day, wherever they put me.”

Harang earned the No. 1 spot by winning 16 games in 2006 and again in 2007. He slipped to 6-17 in 2008, when a strained right forearm sidetracked a solid beginning. He lost weight in the offseason and came to camp last year determined to pitch like as a No. 1 starter again, but finished 6-14 with a 4.21 ERA. He had an appendectomy in August that ended his season.

He’s not sure why his statistics have fallen so far.

“If I had an answer for you, I’d already have fixed it,” Harang said. “This game’s all about luck.”

The Reds’ offense has struggled to score consistently, especially when Harang has been on the mound. In 26 starts last season, the Reds scored two or fewer runs 12 times. Opponents batted only .239 off him.

“I think he’d lost some confidence,” Baker said. “Nothing’s physically wrong, nothing mechanical or mental, which is where the confidence level comes in.”

Harang tries not to think about his struggles the past two seasons.

“It was rough in ’08 because it was the first time I was put in an adverse situation, and I felt like I put a lot of pressure on myself to go out and win every time and I couldn’t,” Harang said. “Last year, once you go through the adversity one time, you learn how to better deal with it the second time.

“Last year I didn’t worry about it. I just went out and if I pitched well, what can I do about it? I did what I could, I tried what I could.”