Haren gearing up for season

Haren gearing up for season

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Something about Sunday's Cactus League game with the White Sox made starting pitcher Dan Haren feel right at home. It must have been the rainy weather and 47-degree temperature, with some late spring snow dusting Mt. Lemon beyond the center-field fence.

"That's like a summer evening in Oakland," Haren said, recalling his three years with the A's before coming to Arizona in an eight-player trade during the offseason. "That light mist, about 50 degrees. It was a little different out there."

The Sox scored a small-ball run on Haren in the second and got an unearned runs when the D-backs committed a pair of errors in the fifth, but otherwise, a leadoff single to Paul Konerko in the fourth followed by a two-run homer from Jermaine Dye stood as his biggest shortcomings on the mound.

The conditions seemed to be set against Haren early on, with it raining every time he took the mound and letting up when the D-backs came to bat, but he found a way to take advantage of a White Sox club that seemed overly eager to get through their at-bats and get off the field.

"A lot of the guys were pretty aggressive," Haren said. "I gave up the home run to Dye and they swung at the next four pitches and I got three outs. They were aggressive. I'm sure they didn't want to be out there."

Haren, on the other hand, was happy to get his work in and to get that much closer to game conditions. He threw roughly 75 pitches in five innings and looked like he was ready for the season to start.

"If I extend it the next time out, it'll be almost like a real game," Haren said, noting that he has two starts left before the season opens in Cincinnati on March 31.

Haren is theoretically slotted as the D-backs' No. 3 starter, but with Randy Johnson unlikely to be ready the first time through the rotation, Haren --last year's All-Star Game starter for the American League -- would be the likely No. 2 man behind Brandon Webb.

Manager Bob Melvin has no shortage of confidence in Haren, praising his performance and his spring in general, while acknowledging that the numbers don't necessarily back up his observations.

Spring Training
News and features:
• D-backs voice Munn on Unit, Upton  400K
• Gilbert on Unit's debut  400K
• Young on commentary  400K
• D-backs on expectations  400K
Spring Training info:
MLB.com coverage  |  Schedule  |  Ballpark  |  Tickets

"He looked great," Melvin said. "He gets the one ball up to Dye for the home run. If we don't lose the ball in the clouds up there in right [one of the two fifth-inning errors], he gives up three. But once again, he was really sharp. He used all his pitches. He's doing a better job of elevating. His fastball really seems like it gets on you. He can get back in the count. He was pretty sharp. The numbers wouldn't suggest he was as good as I thought he was."

Haren can be refreshing as a pitcher who cares about his results in spring. He does his share of experimenting and testing himself out, honing in on discrete aspects of his game at times, but he wants the work to be met with positive results.

"I was a little frustrated at giving up a few runs," Haren acknowledged. "But stuff-wise, it was there. I probably made some pitches I wouldn't necessarily make during the season. But command was there, I was able to go in and out with the fastball. My offspeed stuff is coming around. I feel good. My arm feels great. Hopefully the next time I can get better results."

Haren was able to help himself out at the plate, getting a sacrifice bunt down against Sox starter Gavin Floyd to prolong a rally and help set up a critical run.

Having spent the past three of his five big league seasons in the American League, Haren has not been able to keep his skills with the bat as sharp as they were in his days at Pepperdine, when he served as the team's designated hitter on the days he didn't pitch. He has a total of four big league at-bats, for an .075 career average.

"I hit in college, and I hit a little bit in St. Louis, but it's not necessarily like riding a bike," Haren joked. "It feels like the pitcher's about 25 feet away, and the ball's coming in about 150 mph."

Nevertheless, his manager sees Haren at the plate as yet another circumstance where the numbers don't tell the tale.

"You watch him take BP, and he's an athlete," Melvin said. "I threw to him for the first time today, and this is a guy you're going to be able to do some things with. Over the course of 162 [games] with a guy that's out there every fifth day, if you can get something out of that spot or at least be able to do some things, it's an added bonus."

For Haren, it's part of being a complete ball player. He reluctantly recognizes the temptation to pull him from games when his arm is still strong and effective in order to get a better bat swinging in key situations.

"In the National League especially, you've got to be able to do those things to stay in the game," Haren explained. "I've worked on bunting a little more than hitting. I'm glad I got the bunt down, but I've still got a ways to go. I definitely don't want that to be a reason for me to come out of a game."

Having tied for the most starts in the American League in '07, and with his 3.07 ERA third in the league behind Jake Peavy and Brandon Webb and his 222 2/3 innings fifth most in the league, don't look for Haren to be leaving games early very often.

More than the comfort of a cold mist hanging over the diamond, having Haren on the mound in the game's late innings should become a familiar feeling for D-backs fans. For Haren, it just feels like home.

Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.