Thursday, August 7, 2014

Haren finally finds his groove

It's been awhile (a LONG while), but Dan Haren turned back the clock to April on Wednesday night in Anaheim.  And after Kenley Jansen struck out Josh Hamilton to end the game, the Dodgers had one of their biggest wins of the season.

Haren pitched very well into the eighth inning, including setting down the first 16 batters of the game, as the Dodgers beat the Angels for the second straight night, 2-1.  The Giants ran away from the Brewers, so the lead in the NL West remains at 2 1/2 games.

I'm not sure it's possible to say just how good and effective Haren was, as he completely baffled the mighty Angels' hitters all night long.  In fact, when he was yanked in the eighth, he was only at 87 pitches, and the bullpen of J.P. Howell and Brandon League came dangerously close to handing the lead right back.  Thankfully only one run was surrendered.

Coming into this start, Haren was as bad as bad could be.  With numbers that said 0-5 and a 10.03 ERA in his last five starts, there was no way in the world even the biggest Dodger fans could be confident about this start.  Heck, even Haren admitted after the game that he "tried almost everything" in this start, pretty much saying that he was willing to do anything to shake out of his slump.

It worked.

With a mixture of a sharp breaking ball and great fastball location, he ended up tossing 7 1/3 innings for three hits, one run, no walks, and four strikeouts.  This one start alone lowered his ERA from 4.76 to 4.57.  And more importantly for him, earned him more starts going forward.

Who would've thought that Haren would overshadow Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw the last three days?  That's how unlikely this start was.  Heck, I hope he keeps having unlikely starts going forward.  The Dodgers could sure use more quality starts from the end of the rotation going forward.

Other thoughts from the game:

* Two other guys who've been slumping (a lot) are Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford, and they each had two hits to contribute to the win.  Ethier's RBI double scored Crawford in the second for the 2-0 lead.  Throw in Justin Turner getting on base three times, and the bottom part of the order had a big game.

* The other run came from a Matt Kemp solo home run to continue his recent run.  He's slowed down a bit in August by hitting .217, but he still has three homers to up his total to 14 on the season.  On a team that sorely lacks power, I think the Dodgers will sacrifice his average for the power.

* Jansen faced a rocky road in the ninth, as Kole Calhoun led off with a single to center, then soon stole second with nobody out.  But, Jansen got Mike Trout swinging, Albert Pujols to fly to center, and Hamilton swinging to end the game.  That could have easily gone the other way, and all the work the Dodgers did to lead the entire game would've gone up in smoke.  Instead, Jansen threw smoke to earn his 32nd save.  That's tied for third in the majors with Craig Kimbrel and Greg Holland, some pretty impressive company.

* Yasiel Puig doubled and walked, but his biggest contribution was gunning down Hank Conger at third in the sixth.  It looked like Conger had it made going to third, but Puig once again showed the world why his arm strength is on another level.  Kudos to Turner for the slick catch and tag as well.  That was awesome.

This didn't seem possible after Monday's game, and after Kershaw was hit around to start the next game, but the Dodgers have a chance to take three of four in the Freeway Series.  Hyun-Jin Ryu will be the man on the mound Thursday, as he takes on C.J. Wilson.

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