If not Dan Haren starting, then who?

August, 2, 2014
Aug 2
12:17
AM PT
LOS ANGELES -- Gee, is it August already?

No doubt Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti would like to go back in time and take another crack at the trade deadline after the events of Friday night, when his fifth starter, Dan Haren, continued to pitch his way toward retirement and one potential replacement, Paul Maholm, left the game with an apparently serious knee injury.

Asked about whether Haren, who has a 10.03 ERA since July 1, would remain in the Dodgers’ rotation, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly joked, “Well, [Drew] Butera hasn’t really been built up to pitch yet.”

[+] EnlargeDan Haren
Richard Mackson/USA TODAY Sports"This is the toughest time in my career," Dodgers starter Dan Haren said after his brutal performance in a loss Friday to the Cubs.
Butera, by the way, is a catcher. He made a couple of emergency relief appearances for the Dodgers earlier this season. So, yeah, the Dodgers don’t exactly have great options for shoring up a fraying back of the rotation.

Asked if the Dodgers would consider looking at minor league options, Mattingly said, “Obviously, we’ll try to do what’s right for everybody. I’m sure Danny’s as frustrated as anybody.”

That is an understatement.

Haren, 33, clearly is not the pitcher he was a few years ago, given a fastball that has lost roughly 5 mph. But he’s pretty much the same guy who was 4-0 with a 2.03 ERA in April and is thus a bit dumbfounded at his inability to avoid these kinds of starts with regularity lately.

“I was just embarrassed with my performance. I feel bad for the fans, for the 24 other guys,” Haren said. “Coming into today, I felt really good mentally. I tried to clear my head. Driving to the field, I felt like good things were going to happen. And then the same results came out of it. It’s tough. This is the toughest time in my career.

“I had the bad start last year and was able to turn things around, but it means more this year. With the way we’ve been playing, to be the weak link -- I take a lot of pride in my preparation -- it hurts that much more.”

Thursday’s quiet trade deadline was, in a way, a de facto vote of confidence in Haren and Josh Beckett, who has been dealing with a hip injury and struggled in his two starts since the All-Star break.

It’s not that the Dodgers wanted to leave themselves susceptible to a struggling back of the rotation. But they weren’t willing to give up the prospects for a front-line starting pitcher, and Colletti said there really weren’t a lot of back-end starters being shopped.

So the Dodgers now have limited options:

• Live with what Haren and Beckett can provide them the rest of this season.
• Find an overpriced pitcher who could get through waivers between now and Aug. 31.
• Figure out which of their less-than-dynamic minor league options gives them the best shot.

Maholm probably would have been the next one up, but he went down in a heap while covering first base in the seventh inning. Mattingly said he was sent off for MRI on his right knee, and the Dodgers were bracing for bad news. Maholm has had multiple surgeries on his left knee.

“This was the good one,” Mattingly said.

Nobody really springs to mind in the minor leagues. Zach Lee (5.22 ERA), Red Patterson (5.70) and Carlos Frias (5.01) are the pitchers most often mentioned as possibilities at Triple-A Albuquerque. Lefty Chris Reed (3.32 ERA, 113 strikeouts) might merit a look at Double-A Chattanooga.

Haren struggled early for the Washington Nationals last season before going 6-4 with a 3.27 ERA after the All-Star break. So maybe he can figure it out again if he's given the chance.

Mattingly tried to write off Haren’s first-inning struggles before Friday’s game, because his 7.29 first-inning ERA was his worst coming into the contest. He did all right in the first this time around. Now his worst inning is now the fifth (8.80). Haren hasn’t gotten through a sixth inning since June 30.

Colletti’s inaction Thursday at trade deadline also might have saved a roster spot for one of the struggling veterans in the Dodgers’ bullpen. Chris Perez certainly hasn’t pitched well most of this season. On Friday, he allowed all three of the runners he inherited from Haren to score, giving up a shot off the center-field wall to Welington Castillo, a sacrifice fly to Nate Schierholtz and a sharply hit grounder by Kyle Hendricks that ricocheted off his foot for an infield hit.

Before Friday, Perez had a bloated 5.02 ERA, but he had done a good job keeping inherited runners from scoring, with just 17 percent of them reaching the plate. Still, he has a 1.36 WHIP and, combined with last year’s numbers, doesn’t look like a pitcher who can help the Dodgers get key outs in a pennant race or during playoff games.

What about catchers? Though no one really brought it up around the deadline, you have to wonder if Colletti had any conversations about catchers. The Dodgers’ starter, A.J. Ellis, 33, is batting .194 with zero home runs and, after knee surgery, is beginning to show signs of age in struggling to block balls in the dirt.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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OTHER LEADERS
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