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Rookie reliever Will Harris provides stability in D-backs’ up-and-down bullpen

PHOENIX – Sitting and waiting.

As Jason Kubel corralled the final out of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ 6-2 Opening Night victory over the St. Louis Cardinals back on April 1, Will Harris was 1,400 miles away in his Louisiana home waiting for the phone to ring.

Harris, a ninth-round pick by the Colorado Rockies in 2006, had been designated for assignment four days earlier by the only organization he had ever pitched for and wasn’t sure when the next opportunity would come knocking at his door.

Forty-eight hours later, it came.

The Oakland Athletics claimed the 28-year-old reliever off waivers and optioned him to Triple-A Sacramento.

Forty-eight hours later, it was gone.

After making the trek to Sacramento, the A’s decided they didn’t need Harris after all and placed him on waivers again.

“It was a little weird just being with the Rockies organization for so long, then when I get put on waivers you kind of have that limbo period,” Harris said. “I didn’t know where I was going to go, it could have been anywhere around the country. It was kind of a different feeling for me. Then to have it happen again once I got picked up by the Oakland Athletics was also a little weird. But somehow it worked out.”

‘Worked out’ is an understatement, both for Harris and the D-backs.

On April 8, general manager Kevin Towers claimed the former LSU standout on waivers and optioned him to Triple-A Reno. But this time, he would stick around for more than a few days.

Needing a bullpen arm after closer J.J. Putz went on the disabled list with a strained right elbow, (allowed six runs in 11 2/3 innings with the Aces), Arizona called Harris up on May 8.

The call-up was nothing new, the success that followed, however, was.

Harris made his Major League debut on Aug. 12, 2012 and finished the season in the Rockies bullpen last season. In 20 games, though, the right-hander struggled mightily — allowed almost as many runs (16) as the number of innings he pitched (17 2/3).

It was a lesson in failure that in hindsight Harris is thankful he had early on his professional career.

“Last year, I struggled really badly when I came up to the big leagues with the Rockies,” said Harris. “I put a little extra pressure on myself that shouldn’t have been there. Everyone has it in their career. There are going to be times when you struggle and mine just happened very early on.

“I did about as bad as I possibly could have, but I learned a lot from it. Every day is a new day, that’s how I look at it now. I don’t take my bad outings into the next day, and I don’t take my good outings into the next day. Good or bad, I flush it and move on.”

There hasn’t been much bad to flush in 2013.

Harris made his D-backs’ debut on May 11 against the Philadelphia Phillies and with the bases loaded he struck out the only batter he faced, six-time All-Star Michael Young.

From there, it’s been pretty much smooth sailing for the rookie right-hander.

In a bullpen full of veteran arms — Brad Ziegler, David Hernandez, Heath Bell, J.J. Putz Josh Collmenter and Tony Sipp — the well-traveled Harris has been one of the few to provide the embattled unit with some semblance of stability.

“For me, I’ve had basically every possible role you can have,” said Harris. “I’ve been the first guy out of the bullpen, and I’ve been the last guy out of the bullpen. My job is to just go out there and get outs. I really don’t care what my role is or when I’m put in the game.

“[Manager] Kirk Gibson is going to go out there and try to put us in a position to be successful, it’s my job to just go out there and deliver. Whether it’s in the fifth inning, the ninth inning or in extra innings, I need to throw strikes regardless.”

Since being called up, he’s done just that.

Harris is 2-0 in 27 2/3 innings of work and has allowed just three runs in his last 27 appearances. Whether in a critical situation — batters are 0-of-8 against him with the bases loaded — or in the midst of a blowout loss, the career minor-leaguer has taken his second chance and run with it.

“If you told me back in spring training when I was put on waivers that I’d be competing in a pennant race and contributing, I would have thought that was the best-case scenario,” said Harris. “This game is full of unknowns and guys jump around all the time, so it’s all part of the business. I’m definitely happy to be here though and thrilled that it worked out the way that it did.

“Everyone who gets here feels like they belong here. If you don’t feel like you belong, you probably shouldn’t be doing this. Everyone is confident in what they’re doing, and I’m no different.”

Four months ago, he was struggling to find a team that wanted him. Now, he’s leading all MLB rookie relievers with at least 30 appearances in ERA (1.95).

After six years in the minors and shuffling between three organizations, it seems Will Harris’ days of sitting and waiting may finally be over.