LOS ANGELES -- It's all about the now for Dan Haren. He looks back on the past few years and sees disappointment. He looks ahead and can't see much of anything, just a haze of unknowns. So, what else does he have to lean on but the day at hand?
The Los Angeles Dodgers are hanging on tight in these touch-and-go times for a starting rotation that was a shining beacon three weeks ago and, at the moment, has only one bright light, Clayton Kershaw. It's going to take more than one bankable starting pitcher, great as he is, to get them where they thought they were heading.
So, getting Haren straightened out would be nice. And he'd love nothing more than to be that guy again. He'd love nothing more than to help the Dodgers reach the playoffs and, after that, who knows?
It has been a grind of a season for Haren, 33, but three of his past four starts have been strong, leading to the suggestion, however fleeting, that he can be a part of this team's final drive. He might have to be, with Zack Greinke trying to pitch with a sore elbow and two other starters on the disabled list.
Ask Josh Beckett about pitching for the moment. He was among the best starting pitchers in baseball for three months. Now, after a serious hip injury flared up, his season is probably over and his career just might be, too. Beckett is only one year older than Haren, and Haren has actually pitched about 100 more innings in his career.
"I have to be able to step up," Haren said. "I've been one of the five guys all year and, however many starts I have left, they have to be as good as they can be."
Two seasons ago, Haren was on an Los Angeles Angels team that had just signed one of the game's greatest players, Albert Pujols, and was a heavy World Series favorite. They finished third. Last year, Haren was supposed to be the final piece of a starting pitching puzzle that would make the Washington Nationals perhaps the most dominant team in the National League. They finished second, 10 games out, and went nowhere in October.
Don't you think Haren would love a chance to help get his hometown team into the playoffs? Oddly, if he does just that he might find he has the option of continuing the run for another year. Haren went seven strong innings in the Dodgers' 6-2 win over the New York Mets on Friday night, cruising after Curtis Granderson's leadoff home run.
That gave Haren 150 innings pitched this season, 30 shy of triggering a $10 million contract option for 2015. In other words, if Haren pitches well over these final six starts or so, he can make up his mind whether to pitch for the Dodgers next season at an identical salary or to hit free agency, or ...
"It may sound stupid, but who knows if I'll even want to play next year," Haren said. "I'd rather throw 179 2/3 innings and us win the division, honestly. I've made enough money in my life. I've been blessed. My kids' kids hopefully are set up. That's a lot of money. I don't want to devalue that and sound like a snob, but I mean, my goal is for this team to achieve what we set out to."
A nice camaraderie has developed among this group of starting pitchers. When one of them warms up before the game, the rest of the starters typically saunter down and watch the bullpen session. They don't usually offer any input, but when the starting pitcher that night finishes warming up, they're the first to fist-bump him before the long walk down the line to the dugout. It is a tradition that started in L.A. when Greg Maddux showed up one August. It has continued since. Haren has never pitched on a staff that had such a tradition and he has enjoyed being part of this group.
The problem is, the group is hardly intact right now. Haren and Kershaw are the only pitchers from the five who are entirely healthy at the moment. Beckett is out for the season, Ryu is on the disabled list and Greinke's availability is start to start, depending how inflamed his right elbow gets after each outing.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has taken the same live-in-the-moment posture Haren has, as he surveys what has been happening to his rotation.
"I don't even think of it. It's day to day. This time of year you're grinding out games. You get a good performance, you feel good," Mattingly said. "That last one, Danny didn't feel good. At this point, you're not looking back at the last three. He feels good right now, we feel good, we won tonight, simple as that, keep it as clean as one game."
The Dodgers feel good about their rotation again, at least until Greinke grimaces in pain or Kevin Correia puts up a clunker or Roberto Hernandez's ground balls start eking through into the outfield. It's all about the day to day, which is pretty much right where Haren's career lines up.