What a difference a month makes in the game of baseball. At the beginning of August it looked like Dan Haren could possibly lose his spot in the rotation after a disastrous July. Since August 1, the right-hander has been a rock at the back end of the rotation for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Haren tossed seven scoreless innings Wednesday night against the Padres and received plenty of help from Carl Crawford and the offense, resulting in a 4-0 Dodgers win.
From July 5 to August 1 Haren posted a horrific 10.03 ERA giving up 26 earned runs in only 23 1/3 innings over five starts. The rough stretch included having his turn in the rotation skipped to see if he could figure out his issues.
The urgency of getting any kind of production after the big three at the top of the Dodgers rotation was growing towards the end of July. With no real trade targets the Dodgers needed the Haren they saw in April and he knew it.
“Things don’t look too good now, but I’ve got to give us a better chance to win,” Haren said after struggling through a July 18 start in St. Louis.
It seems as though he has figured out what he was doing wrong and it couldn’t come at a better time for the Dodgers who are clinging to a 2.5 game lead over the San Francisco Giants as they head north to face their rival in a three-game weekend series beginning Friday night.
In his last seven starts Haren has pitched to a 5-1 record and a 1.70 ERA allowing only eight earned runs to restore stability. Once plagued by the long ball — 13 homers in eight starts from May 18 to June 25 — Haren has surrendered only three during this stretch of seven games and 42 1/3 innings. 94 batters have faced him since the last homer on August 22.
So what changes did Haren, pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, and catcher A.J. Ellis make to get the righty back on track?
“I don’t really have an answer,” said Haren. “I’ve got a really good rhythm with A.J. and (tonight) I was locating good and keeping (hitters) of balance.”
“My splits gotten better over the last couple times out. My curveball has been better for a month or so now. I’ve thrown it more and relied less on my cut fastball. I just try to get outs and how I get there doesn’t really matter.”
Four weeks ago the 33-year-old couldn’t be trusted with the ball every fifth day but now he is once again the veteran pitcher the Dodgers are going to rely on to take the ball as a fourth starter in the playoffs.
Haren’s manager Don Mattingly never lost faith with his right-hander, continually sticking up for him after each brutal start in July. Mattingly was sure there would be a bounce back to form and Haren has rewarded that faith with solid production.
“Danny is pitching like he pitched early in the season. This really has been more of his season than that little stretch in the middle,” said Mattingly Wednesday. “This is a guy who knows what he’s doing”
Part of the concern surrounding Haren’s July was his contract status for next year. If he gets to 180 innings pitched, his 2015 option automatically vests. There is no doubt at this point that he will get there since he has reached 169 innings after Wednesday with possibly three starts left.
With 12 starts of at least six innings and two or less earned runs this season — including five of his last six starts — Haren has put the concerns of next season to rest. He has also earned some extra cash in 2014 to the sum of $1 million with a chance at $2 million more by season’s end.