Haren's struggles are reason for concern

August 16, 2012

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Subtle as they may have been, there were definite signs the Angels were slowly getting their starting rotation back in order. Then came Thursday night.

Right-hander Dan Haren, a pillar of consistency throughout his major league career, stumbled again. It was bad enough that you could read the look of concern on manager Mike Scioscia's face after the game.

For the second time in two starts, Haren was unable to pitch his way out of the fourth inning. It's not a recurrence of the lower-back tightness that put him on the disabled list last month, he said. It's his command and location.

Scioscia is confused. Haren is confused. He isn't able to put pitches in the right zone and he isn't sure how to fix it.

With the season coming down the final seven weeks, you've got to wonder how long Scioscia can continue to send out his troubled starter. Every loss, including Thursday's 7-0 setback to the Tampa Bay Rays, seems to knock the Angels farther back in the American League West wild-card race.

"We look at this thing every day," Scioscia said. "There are some options you can consider. We're going to look at this over the next couple of days to see where we can go. Dan pitching what you would consider an average year for him is important to us.

"He doesn't have to go out there and be Superman; he just needs to pitch to what we would expect him to on a start-by-start basis."

Haren had three promising starts are coming off the DL on July 22, winning twice and giving up just four earned runs in 18 innings. But he was pulled after just 3 1/3 innings last Saturday against the Seattle Mariners and gave up six hits to the first eight batters he faced in the fourth against the Rays, including a home run to B.J. Upton.

Haren, who also served up a homer to Ben Zobrist in the second, has surrendered at least one home run in 10 consecutive starts and has given up 21 in 22 starts compared to 20 in 34 starts last season.

"It's no secret I've struggled the last two times out," he said. "I've got to get better. Things snowballed on me and I haven't been able to stop it. I've got to do something to change it."

What that is, nobody knows. Scioscia said his command of his fastball and his location are off, but Haren said he's been unable to find any flaw in his delivery that could fix the problem. When someone asked if it's possible that this is simply the pitcher Haren is, Scioscia wasn't sure how to answer.

"Some pitchers will go through periods where maybe their stuff isn't quite as sharp and they rebound," he finally said. "It can happen month to month or year to year. You could face a pitcher in April and their stuff looks crisp, then face them in June and they're a little bit soggy and then all of a sudden they get a rebirth in September. Right now with Dan, there's no doubt he and (pitching coach Mike Butcher) are working on getting his release point and his stuff back, being able to command the ball better."

The Angels had been encouraged by Ervin Santana's start Wednesday night, giving them hope that their pitchers could get them deeper into games and rely less on the struggling bullpen. But now they've got to figure where to go with Haren.

They found little success offensively against Rays starter David Price, who pitched a three-hit shutout over seven innings and won his league-leading 16th game. But the Angels have found the entire Tampa Bay staff to be difficult to scores runs against this season.

The shutout marked the third consecutive game the Rays have blanked the Angels, who have now gone scoreless 32 innings in a row against them. They haven't been blanked in three straight games since 1994 by the Oakland A's.

That won't last forever, but at the moment, there seems to be no viable solution to what ails Haren.

"It's not for lack of working, that's for sure," he said. "I work hard in between (starts) to look at video and try to pick up on any little thing. But at some point I've got to take it to the field.

"The last couple of games I just haven't been able to get out of the inning and put an end to it. That's kind of been a recipe for disaster."