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Ex-Pelican Harrison in good shape with Rangers

SURPRISE, Ariz.

Matt Harrison looks at his wedding pictures these days, and he doesn't recognize the guy his wife is with.

"I look back," Harrison said, "and my face was a lot bigger. My body was a lot bigger. I was like, gee, it doesn't even look like the same person. My wife couldn't tell, either."

That was 30 pounds and 12 months ago.

The Matt Harrison Makeover has been startling. Harrison, a former Myrtle Beach Pelican, and the Texas Rangers are about to find out just how much.

Harrison's 2009 season was mostly a blur of shoulder pain and trips to the disabled list. He was being counted upon to be a major contributor, after a 2008 rookie season in which he won nine games for the Rangers and pitched a complete game shutout at Oakland.

But his throwing shoulder, his left one, started to bother him in May.

"I had pain in front of my shoulder to begin with, and I talked to the doctors," Harrison said. "I thought the same way they did, that it was probably just a little tendinitis or something.

"So I kept throwing, and it got worse. Then it stopped for a bit, so I started throwing again. But it got worse again. I started having numbness in my throwing hand."

Numbness in anything is never a good sign, of course. Harrison went to see team physician Dr. Keith Meister.

"He said, 'Let me check one more thing,' and he checked the pulse in my throwing arm when it was above my head.

"What he found was that there was barely a pulse up there. So whenever my arm got up here, I couldn't feel anything. That's why I was losing command of everything."

Meister sent Harrison to Dr. Greg Pearl, a vascular surgeon.

"He did some tests," Harrison said, "and it was the same thing. He tested my pulse, and I had none up there. He said he knew what it was and that the thoracic was pinching the nerve that was underneath the rib."

I'm no doctor, but it appears that in Thoracic Outlet Syndrome the collar bone presses against the bundle of nerves that lead from the neck into the arm.

Numbness or pain usually follow. Or worse.

In Colorado pitcher Aaron Cook's case, Thoracic Outlet Syndrome first went undetected and a blood clot broke away from the compression area and traveled to his lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism.

"You could end up having a blood clot or possibly serious nerve damage," Harrison now knows.

Pearl, based in Dallas, has performed the rib-removal surgery on, among others, Cook, Kenny Rogers, Hank Blalock, John Rheinecker and former Myrtle Beach Pelican Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Pearl gave Harrison the piece of rib that was removed as a keepsake. It's a chunk of bone several inches long and an inch thick.

Some think it's odd that most of Pearl's patients for the surgery have been Rangers.

Odd or lucky?

"The second day after the surgery, all pain I had in my arm was gone," Harrison reported. "All numbness and tingling in the arm were gone, too.

"The only thing I experienced was some pain in my back, which everybody has from moving the rib around, but that pain went away in about three weeks."

Harrison's surgery was last July 27. By September, he was pitching again in Arizona.

Rangers coaches noted that Harrison's velocity had increased.

"I was healthy," he said. "I was healthy going into the offseason, too, so that I could focus on getting ready for this year."

After the shoulder surgery, Harrison said, "I was able to get back and start working out again."

But first things first. Harrison had an old buddy -- his stomach -- that was working out with him.

"I started really working on cardio and started eating better," Harrison said. "I stopped eating all those fried foods all the time, and I stopped the sweets. I think that contributed to most of it."

His wife, Meghan, had to adjust to the new family menu.

Whether it was the surgery or losing the 30 pounds, the changes in Harrison have been among the brightest news in the Rangers' spring training camp.

He went from throwing 88 to 93 miles an hour during his rookie season to 90 to 94 in this camp.

He still has trouble thinking of himself, Harrison said, as a strikeout pitcher.

"I'd rather get the quick outs," he said.

In a four-inning appearance last week, Harrison struck out eight Milwaukee Brewers.

New body. New shoulder. New Matt Harrison.

You'll hardly be able to recognize him.

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