Just less than a week ago, in the inaugural edition of AK’s Corner, I expressed (on behalf of all Los Angeles Dodgers fans) a serious frustration with the continued mediocrity of starting pitcher Dan Haren. I pointed out that after starting the season 5-1 with a 2.84 ERA, Haren had gone 3-8 with a 6.04 ERA (in fact, in his previous five starts, Haren had gone 0-5 with a 10.03 ERA). However, I also mentioned that the Dodgers should stick with Haren as their fifth starter and hope that he fixes some mechanical issue(s) that might have been at the root of his struggles, and that there was “no reason why he can’t still be an effective fifth starter for the next two months.”
Well, I can’t say that I was expecting him to return to being effective in his very next start, especially in Anaheim against the Los Angeles Angels and a line-up that includes Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, and Kole Calhoun (a line-up that Haren called the best he had faced all season). But there Haren was, walking off the mound in the bottom of the eighth inning, having allowed no runs on only three hits all night, with the four aforementioned hitters having gone a combined 0-12. Bravo, Monsieur Haren!
So, was there a mechanical issue at fault all along? Haren did admit after the Dodgers’ 2-1 victory that he had been working with Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt on tinkering his mechanics, and specifically focusing on staying back a bit more. What exactly does that mean? Well, in watching Haren work from the wind-up almost all game long, it was quite noticeable that he was ‘pausing’ for a second or two with his leg in the air (think Hiroki Kuroda or Hideo Nomo, for lack of a better comparison)–something that had always been a part of his pitching delivery in seasons past. Both he and catcher A.J. Ellis thought that the minor mechanical adjustment gave his pitches more life against the Angels.
Yes, that is cryptic baseball lingo…my translation: Haren didn’t magically add 5 mph to his fastball, but pitchers don’t need a significant uptick in velocity to gain more zip on their pitches. Case in point, it was Haren’s splitter (i.e. split-finger fastball) and curveball that had more bite against the Angels than during his lengthy stretch of mediocrity. When pitchers lose life on their breaking pitches, those pitches tend to remain flat as they reach the plate, as opposed to sharply breaking–as they’re supposed to do. By adjusting his delivery, Haren appeared able to regain some of the life on those particular pitches that had been missing in previous starts.
Anyhow, with Thursday’s news that Josh Beckett‘s hip injury is more serious than originally thought, thus necessitating the Dodgers’ trade for Philadelphia Phillies starter Roberto Hernandez, Haren can’t afford to take any steps backward. The Dodgers need him to be a consistent force from the fourth spot in the rotation through the end of the season, and if Wednesday night’s start against the Angels was any indication, he’s already well on his way.