Dan Haren's pride took a hit in July when the durable Angels right-hander went on the disabled list for the first time in his career, ending a run of eight seasons without missing a start.
His ego might take the equivalent of a Mike Tyson shot to the solar plexus if he is skipped in or pulled from the rotation, both possibilities after another shaky start in Thursday night's 7-0 loss to Tampa Bay in Angel Stadium.
Haren was rocked for five runs and seven hits, including solo homers by Ben Zobrist and B.J. Upton, in 32/3 innings, giving the Angels no chance against Rays left-hander David Price, who gave up three hits and struck out eight in seven scoreless innings.
Price improved to 16-4 with a 2.39 earned-run average on the season and 8-0 with a 1.72 ERA in his last 10 starts to lead the Rays to their third consecutive shutout of the Angels, who have not scored in 32 innings against Tampa Bay and are 1-6 against the Rays this season.
Tampa Bay moved into a tie with the Baltimore for the two American League wild-card spots, and the Angels, who are 5-10 in August and seven games behind Texas in the AL West, are 21/2 games off the wild-card lead.
By no means is Haren the only struggling Angels starter — the rotation is 3-5 with a 5.32 ERA in August. But with 43 games left, Manager Mike Scioscia must go with the pitchers who give the Angels the best chance to win.
He would be hard-pressed to include Haren — who has given up 10 earned runs and 12 hits in seven innings of his last two starts — in that group right now.
With an off day Monday, Scioscia could skip Haren, who is 8-10 with a 4.90 ERA and has yielded 22 homers in 1282/3 innings, and start Ervin Santana, Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson in Boston next week and Zack Greinke next Friday in Detroit.
When Haren's spot comes up Aug. 25 in Detroit, Scioscia could start Jerome Williams, who replaced Haren on Thursday and gave up two runs and one hit, Evan Longoria's two-run homer in the fifth, and struck out six in 41/3 innings.
"We're going to look at some things, there are some options we'll consider, but Dan pitching to what you'd consider an average year would be very important to us," Scioscia said. "He doesn't have to be Superman. He needs to pitch to his capabilities, and we're having a little inconsistency with that."
Though the velocity of his fastball has dropped over the years from 94 mph to 89 mph, Haren has thrived using a variety of breaking balls.
But with Haren turning 32 in September and in the final year of a contract that includes a $15.5-million option for 2013, the question is beginning to be asked:
Is this as good as it's going to get for Haren?
"Some pitchers go through periods where their stuff is not as sharp and they rebound — it can happen month to month or year to year," Scioscia said. "Right now with Dan, there's no doubt job No. 1 is getting his release point and stuff back and an ability to command the ball better."
The first two hits against Haren on Thursday were homers, by Zobrist in the second and Upton in the fourth. Haren, who said he is free of the lower-back stiffness that sent him to the DL, went on to give up four consecutive hits, including Jeff Keppinger's two-run single, in the fourth.
"Things just kind of snowballed on me the last two starts," Haren said, "and I wasn't able to stop it."