- Mark Saxon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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SAN DIEGO -- Dan Haren is a rarity in Major League Baseball, a tall, right-handed pitcher whose fastball rarely brushes 89 mph.
But he's also a survivor, someone who has been traded three times and twice signed as a free agent, at each stop picking something up to keep his career on track. A year ago at this time, he was fighting desperately to show the Washington Nationals he still had the stuff to fill out what they thought was a championship rotation.
So, now, much as he wants to fit in with his latest team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, he's adapting a more natural, almost Zen-like approach, letting the game come to him. The first impression was a brilliant one, Haren holding the San Diego Padres to four hits over six innings in a 5-1 win Wednesday night.
"[Last year] I was trying to hump up when, really, my game is location and moving the ball in and out," Haren said. "I backed off. I'm better when I hit my spots, obviously."
When he's on, he can hit spots with the best of them, with a cutter that can dance to surprising reaches of the strike zone, particularly the inner, outer and lower edges. Wednesday, with his wife, mother-in-law and two young kids visiting from Orange County, he painted the corners and made an early lead hold up, giving the Dodgers further confidence they can weather the loss of Clayton Kershaw, though they'd rather not. Dodgers starters have a 0.91 ERA so far.
"I feel like part of the team," Haren said. "I hadn't done anything up until now."
The Dodgers have been fairly blunt about the difficulties traveling to Australia presented, but it even presented obstacles for the players who didn't get on the plane. Haren stayed back in Arizona with rehabbing players such as Josh Beckett, Zack Greinke, Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford.
For those 10 days, Haren felt adrift from his team and, frankly, a bit bored.
"Man, I got my butt kicked in those camp games," Haren said. "I don't think it was my stuff as much as the adrenaline level's not there, nobody's watching, it's dead silent. It's hard to simulate major league innings."
The Dodgers knew when they signed him to a $10 million deal last November that Haren wasn't going to revert to his St. Louis and Oakland days and start throwing 94 mph with a split-finger pitch that piles up strikeouts. But they also knew they were getting one of the game's best competitors and a practitioner of the craft.
"He can go to both sides of the plate, change speed, change depths," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "We hope he's that kind of guy every time out."