GLENDALE, Ariz. — Dan Haren is back close to home and ever so happy to be there.
The 33-year-old right-hander doesn’t have to be the man in this rotation, or even the No. 2 or No. 3 pitcher, not with the loads of talent around him on his new team, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
He fits nicely into the No. 4 starter role occupied last season by Ricky Nolasco, who desired a long-term deal and wound up getting a four-year contract with Minnesota.
Haren, who signed a one-year, $10 million contract, comes to the Dodgers with confidence after a strong final half of the season with the Washington Nationals a year ago.
With at least 30 starts in each of his past 10 seasons, he believes he brings durability to the back end of the Los Angeles rotation.
“I take the ball every fifth day or whatever is asked,” he said. “More often than not, I keep the team
in the game. With the offense we have and the bullpen we have, it’s really a perfect fit I think.”
Haren threw his first bullpen session of the spring Sunday, the first workout day for the Dodgers pitchers and catchers. Arizona and Los Angeles opened spring training earlier than usual because they open the regular season with a pair of games in Sydney, Australia on March 22-23. The Dodgers were joined by their latest pitcher signing, left-hander Paul Maholm, who signed a one-year deal Saturday.
Maholm could take the No. 5 spot if Josh Beckett isn’t fully recovered from surgery to repair a nerve condition. Regardless, his addition provides depth for the Dodgers, who had injury problems last year at the bottom of their rotation.
Haren signed last November, early for a free agent. With free agent starters still looking for jobs, or having to settle for less than they wanted, he’s glad he decided so early.
For him, it was an easy choice to join the reigning NL West champs.
“It was really being close to home and being on a championship club,” he said. “You couldn’t ask for anything more.”
His home is in Orange County, about a 50-mile drive from the ballpark. He and his wife have a bevy of relatives throughout the Los Angeles area.
Haren had played nine seasons with teams in the west – Oakland, Arizona and the Los Angeles Angels – before signing his one-year deal with the Nationals.
From the start, it was a struggle. He had an ERA above six through the first half of the season with an abundance of home runs allowed. But after being sidelined briefly with a shoulder problem, Haren came back strong. In his last 15 starts with the Nationals, he had a 3.29 ERA. It was 2.89 over his final five outings.
“I was trying to do too much, rather than pitch how I normally do, which is really simple, get the ball down, getting ahead of guys and trying to keep guys off balance,” he said, reflecting on his early-season problems. “I don’t know if it was a new team, cross country. It just wasn’t working, so I got back to the basics.”
It was those late-season performances, plus his workhorse history, that drew the Dodgers’ interest, and they didn’t hesitate to add him to the formidable rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyrun-Jin Ryu.
“Just having prepared for him so many different times, this guy is not a fun at bat,” Los Angeles manager Don Mattingly said. “And the way he threw the ball towards the of the season last year. It was really more mechanical than anything else, just kind of got out of his arm slot a little bit. As the season went on, he was back to himself. I’m excited to have another quality guy.”
In 11 big league seasons, Haren is 129-111 with a 3.74 ERA in 327 appearances, 316 of them starts.
“Guys like that, every time you walk out there you feel like you’re going to win,” Mattingly said, “and he gives us another one of those guys.”