Harang, Dodgers appear to be good fit
Club pursued veteran right-hander multiple times in past
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- In their third year of trying, the Dodgers finally landed starting pitcher Aaron Harang, who is expected to help plug an innings hole created by the departure of Hiroki Kuroda.
The Dodgers made a run at Harang at the 2009 Trade Deadline, again that offseason and yet again in the spring of 2010 before finally signing the free agent in December for two years and $12 million.
"It made it more enticing, knowing it wasn't something just spontaneous, like, 'Let's just go after this guy,'" Harang said. "It's been in the back of my mind that they've wanted me a while. That made it an easier decision, knowing people want you and have been working at something for multiple years."
Harang, 33, is coming off a rebound season, going 14-7 with a 3.64 ERA for San Diego. The veteran right-hander has had a few of those rebound opportunities, having been sidelined in recent years by an appendectomy, a bad back and a stress reaction in his right foot that shelved him for a month last year.
So a check of his career stats will find what Wall Street technicians would call "volatility."
Drafted and signed by Texas, Harang was traded a year later to the A's, who traded him in his second Major League season to Cincinnati. He won 16 games in 2006 (led the league in wins, strikeouts and shutouts) and 2007 (fourth in National League Cy Young Award voting) and parlayed that into a four-year, $36.5 million contract. But he then lost 17 games in 2008 (led the league) and went three consecutive seasons with single-digit wins until last year.
"In '08, I had an elbow strain and tried pitching through it and got to the point where I couldn't do it," Harang said. "In '09, I had an appendectomy and missed six weeks. In 2010 my SI [sacroiliac] locked up [he missed two months]. It's been nagging stuff, but fortunately not my arm."
Dealing with the injuries, however, led Harang to develop some bad mechanical habits that Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley helped break last year.
"Darren Balsley looked at some video of my 2006 and 2007 seasons, and compared them with 2010," Harang said. "There was such a difference. He got me to go back to my old mechanics. I think I changed because when you're battling nagging stuff, you compensate so you can repeat your arm slot, but you then run the risk of hurting something else. I was constantly tinkering.
"His big thing was, as tall as I am, I have a pretty short stride when I'm pitching correctly. He noticed that I was over-striding for what's best for me, and when I did that it changed my arm slot. I was losing my downward angle and the deception and my ball was flattening out. Balsley saw something. He noticed it in Spring Training, that I didn't look the same. Teammates that had hit against me said they were seeing the ball better off me, that I had lost my deceptiveness. I could feel it. Between that change and pitching at Petco Park, I was able to get my game back."
The stress reaction in his foot, Harang said, was caused by pitching on a mound that had a hole in front of the rubber carved out by the opposing pitcher.
This past offseason, Harang accepted a mutual option to remain with San Diego for a $5 million salary. But the Padres, in the midst of a front-office overhaul, passed and bought him out for $500,000. His Dodgers contract includes an option for 2014 that is mutual at $8 million, can vest at $7 million if he's healthy or be bought out for $2 million.
The Dodgers are hopeful Harang repeats his 2011 season, even if pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium isn't quite as spacious as Petco. Harang, a San Diego native, said one of the attractions of signing with the Dodgers was the proximity to home.
But he also said, from the view of the Padres' clubhouse last year, the Dodgers' second-half turnaround was no mirage. He's convinced the Dodgers will contend this season.
"Last year, we saw that this team got off to a slow start, but they got all cylinders firing in the second half and did a complete flip," he said. "We talked in our meetings that you have to watch out for these guys. You could tell they were spotty, choppy, but in the second half everybody seemed to mesh."
"I'm excited about the opportunity I have here. This is a really good ballclub here. We definitely have a shot to be there at the end."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.