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02/14/09 3:45 PM EST

In-shape Harang remains Reds' ace

If healthy, veteran slated to be club's Opening Day starter

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Following the worst season of his career, Reds starting pitcher Aaron Harang didn't spend much time brooding this winter or holding pity parties at his home in San Diego.

"I flushed last year down the can," Harang said on Saturday as Reds pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training. "I didn't even look back over my shoulder."

A much slimmer-looking, 6-foot-7 Harang appeared to have also left about 20-25 pounds in the past, too. During his physical on Saturday morning, he checked in at 255 lbs. That means he was pitching at around 280 lbs. last year.

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Following a pair of 16-win seasons in 2006 and 2007, Harang fell to a 6-17 record with a 4.78 ERA in 2008. Meanwhile, breakout star Edinson Volquez finished 17-6 and became a first-time All-Star.

But that doesn't mean there's a new ace in town, or a new Opening Day starter on the horizon. Reds manager Dusty Baker didn't hesitate in answering that the 30-year-old Harang would be his starter when the season opens on April 6 vs. the Mets.

"If we started tomorrow, he would be," Baker said. "If he stays healthy and everything stays the same, then yeah."

Harang, who will earn $11 million this season as part of his four-year, $36.5 million contract, would be making his fourth-straight Opening Day assignment for the Reds. Baker never considered switching to Volquez, or anyone else.

"I think No. 1, he's been the Opening Day starter the last few years," Baker said. "I'm not going have one down year spoil the last three. Confidence and all kinds of things are involved."

Harang never made any excuses for last year's stumble, not even after his numbers nose-dived following a now infamous four-inning May relief appearance during an 18-inning game at San Diego.

In the final 18 starts following the bullpen outing, Harang went 4-11 with a 5.71 ERA. His ERA was 3.50 over the first 11 starts. There was also a right forearm injury suffered in July that cost the right-hander a month on the disabled list.

That also snapped Harang's 200-inning-season streak at three. He finished with 184 1/3 innings pitched. He pitched 211 2/3 innings in 2005, 234 1/3 innings in 2006 and 231 2/3 innings in 2007. His 205 strikeouts gave four consecutive seasons of 200 or more strikeouts.

After a few weeks off, Harang began his preparation for 2009. He increased his circuit training and did more cardiovascular routines.

"At the beginning of November, I started working out," Harang said. "My trainer told me I was two or three weeks later last year when I started working out. He was definitely pleased."

Looking in great shape, Harang said he also changed his eating habits. He went on the Zone Diet, ate out less and began exercising some portion control.

"I feel like it will keep me more durable during the season in the long run," Harang said. "Hopefully this will give me a shot to get another 15-20 innings in [over the course of the season]. Maybe we can get me and Bronson [Arroyo] up to 240 innings and Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto and the fifth guy close to 200 -- it would be huge."

Having the new-look Harang return to where he once was will be a key for the Reds to have a chance to contend this season. His forgetting about last season appears to be good place to start.

"You can't bring it back," Baker said. "You can look at the past if you want to, but that's where you'll remain."

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