Six of year's most hopeful innings

Early Sunday afternoon, Dan Haren was sitting back at his locker, just beginning to go over scouting reports. Clear on the other side of the room, Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto was surrounded by reporters giving another briefing on the state of emergency in the Angels' rotation.

A few hours later, thanks to Haren, the threat level has been reduced to yellow.

Haren pitched six strong innings to set a good tone for Sunday's crucial 7-4 win over the Texas Rangers and soothed some frayed nerves in the front office and manager's office. Bothered by back inflammation all year, then finally shut down by it early this month, Haren (7-8) hadn't been the stalwart pitcher the Angels were banking on. Combined with Ervin Santana's struggles, it was looking more and more urgent that Dipoto find some answers on the trade market.

One start didn't change all that, but it suggested things might turn out all right even if they remain just as they are.

Afterward, Haren said he approached Sunday's game as if it were the biggest of the year, which -- with Texas beginning to stretch its lead -- it actually was. He also admitted he was tired of hearing about how badly the Angels needed to fix their rotation.

"I felt like I was kind of getting the short end of the straw, just because I've pitched through a lot of pain this year and wasn't getting very good results," Haren said. "I could have made all my starts this year. I went on the DL to get myself better to make 12 good starts rather than 16 average starts. So, here's one today."

If the Angels can get 12 good starts -- or even eight or nine -- out of Haren between now and October, they've got a pretty good chance to give the Rangers a scare, maybe more. Aside from Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, the Angels have had a bunch of X factors in their rotation since Haren went down. You never knew what you were going to get, but you usually weren't going to get a win.

It was, in fact, beginning to affect the team's morale. The Angels averaged more than nine runs per game in the four games after the All-Star break and won just one of them. Now, Haren has offered hope that order has been restored to the most crucial aspect of the team.

"It came at the right time. We needed it really bad," Albert Pujols said. "Obviously, facing a tough lineup like the Rangers' is not easy. He was keeping those guys off balance pretty well and he made one mistake off Nelson Cruz and he took advantage. But it's great to see him throwing the ball well and, hopefully, he can stay healthy the rest of the year."

It wasn't as if Haren was throwing in the mid-90s as he did when he was in his twenties, but he didn't do that last year, either, and still finished seventh in Cy Young balloting. The Angels weren't as good last year as they are this season, but one thing they could boast of was one of the best 1-2 punches in baseball, behind Haren and Weaver. If they can get that back, coupled with the new offensive explosiveness provided by Mike Trout, they could be a force in October.

There is a crucial velocity threshold for Haren -- it seems to be about 89 to 91 mph -- and he got closer to those numbers Sunday, touching 90 and dwelling at around 88. He also had better life on his split-finger pitch and cutter.

"It wasn't like, all of a sudden, you went, 'Wow,' with his stuff," manager Mike Scioscia said. "But his stuff was crisp and his command was better."

Haren admits his fastball mechanics still are out of whack and here, perhaps, is the most hopeful thing he can offer Angels fans who are suddenly wondering if their team has the pitching to play into October:

"I'm only going to get better," Haren said.