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Angels pitcher Dan Haren continues to evolve

The 30-year-old right-hander says he has reinvented himself since his days of pitching for Oakland. Haren's strikeouts have gone up, his walks have gone down, and he has made three All-Star teams.

March 06, 2011|By Kevin Baxter
  • Angels starter Dan Haren works against the Rangers during a spring training game last week.
Angels starter Dan Haren works against the Rangers during a spring training… (Christian Petersen / Getty…)

Reporting from Tempe, Ariz. — The Angels saw an awful lot of Dan Haren during his three seasons in Oakland — enough to know that, one day, he would be the kind of pitcher they'd want at the top of their rotation.

Yet the team hardly seemed surprised when Haren wheeled his white Maserati into the players' parking lot for the opening of spring training and proclaimed he's not that guy anymore.

"I'm a completely different pitcher than I was in Oakland," he says. "When I was over there, I threw much harder. I didn't throw a cut fastball. Now I've kind of reinvented myself.

"You can't just go out there and throw up the same stuff every year. Everyone has to adjust along the way."

And as it turns out, adjusting is something the 30-year-old Haren is good at. In an eight-year big league career, he has played for four teams, seven managers and five pitching coaches, bouncing between the National and American leagues twice and eventually coming to the Angels from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a trade last July.

"He's evolved," is how Angels Manager Mike Scioscia puts it. "He's evolved into more of a pitcher. Back then, he relied more on just dynamic stuff. Mentally, he's as tough as any pitcher I've seen."

Along the way his strikeouts have gone up, his walks have gone down and he has made three All-Star teams. That's a track record Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher doesn't plan to mess with.

"When you have a veteran-type pitcher, you kind of go off what he does and what works for him the best," Butcher says. "We just try to adapt to every player that comes in here. And with Dan, he communicates very well."

Butcher became acquainted with Haren during the final two months of last season, when the right-hander was 5-4 with a 2.87 earned-run average in 14 starts for the Angels. The Arizona neighbors then added to that over the winter, talking frequently and getting together once for a game of catch.

"We built a pretty good relationship," says Haren, who is scheduled to make his second appearance of the spring Monday against the Chicago Cubs. "He knows what he's doing. He's a tough guy. He expects a lot out of you, out of his pitchers. So when he speaks, you listen."

What Butcher and the Angels expect out of Haren is a lot of quality innings, something he's given every other team he has pitched for. His 203 starts over the last six seasons are tops in the majors, as are his 137 quality starts. He has also led either the American League or the major leagues in starts in three of the last five seasons and has never missed a turn because of injury.

Chalk that up to Haren's athleticism. At Pepperdine University, not only did he pitch well enough to make an All-American team and win conference player-of-the-year honors, but on the days he didn't throw he was the team's designated hitter. And in his big league debut, he lined a double to right against the San Francisco Giants' Jason Schmidt on the first pitch he saw.

Then there's his golf game. Asked to recount a recent outing with Angels pitchers Scott Kazmir, Jered Weaver and Joel Pineiro, an embarrassed Haren stammers as his teammates lean in to hear his story.

"I mean, I don't want to…," he starts. "Let's just say I golfed with Pineiro and Kazmir. They were both over 100. Weaver was under 100. I was in the 80s.

"The low 80s."

The rest of the rotation cracks up as Haren blushes.

"Just say 'I'm [really] good,' " Pineiro shouts over the laughter.

There is one part of Haren's resume that's lacking, however. His major league career was all of 31 games old when he pitched in a World Series for the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Cardinals were swept in that Series by the Boston Red Sox and Haren hasn't been back since.

"As you go through more seasons without winning the World Series… you start realizing the real goal of this is to get to late October," he says. "That has to be the No. 1 priority.

"I've done some things personal-wise, All-Star games and stuff like that. But it's about winning a championship now. I'd give it all up for that."

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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