LOS ANGELES -- At around 4 p.m. Friday afternoon, just about the time the rest of the team wandered out to the field to stretch, Dan Haren was resting on a couch, alone in the Los Angeles Dodgers' clubhouse aside from Josh Beckett and the dozen or so reporters surrounding him.
The topic, Beckett's season-ending hip injury and the chances he'll retire next offseason, couldn't have been lost on Haren, who, at 33, is about a year younger than Beckett but has piled up 200 more innings in his career. For pitchers at this stage in their careers in the post-PED era, the end comes quickly.
About one month ago, Haren's career wasn't on the rocks, but it was getting uncomfortably close to the reef.
"Absolutely, I lost my confidence," Haren said. "Any pitcher would, having the stretch of games that I had. I've got how many starts left here -- three or four? And I've got to make them as good as I can for the team. Basically, every game, I'm just treating like a playoff game here on out."
If Friday's game had been a playoff game -- and that's hard to imagine since the Dodgers were facing an Arizona Diamondbacks team that is 23 games under .500 -- it would have put the Dodgers one step closer to their first World Series in 26 years. Haren (12-10) pitched six strong innings in the Dodgers' 2-1 win, giving up only one bad-luck run, the product of a dribbler off the bag and a ball squirted into left field against the shift.
Haren is 4-1 with a 2.04 ERA in his past six starts. And so, for now, his career is alive and well. Whether he is part of the Dodgers’ playoff plans or not, he says he has no idea. Whether he will pitch in 2015, he says he is undecided. But his goal is to exert as much focus and attention on every pitch to make them all open questions in the coming weeks.
It seems like a while ago that Haren was losing five starts in a row and giving up long ball after long ball, but it was July 5 through Aug. 1, a blink of an eye in baseball terms.
"When he's out of sync, his ball doesn't have that late life and the movement turns flat and then it gets hit," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "He's been working on a few things, and tonight and for a few starts now he had that life."
The Dodgers aren't exactly swinging a lethal array of bats right now, and Friday's game, for a while, was something of a repeat of Wednesday's tortuous 14-inning loss to the Washington Nationals. The difference was that this time the Dodgers were able to protect a two-run lead, because this time their bullpen worked. Mattingly didn't have to ask closer Kenley Jansen to get four outs, because another converted position player already did.
That former position player, Pedro Baez, pitched a quick and breezy seventh inning and then came back out and got pinch hitter Cliff Pennington leading off the eighth. That was an important moment for Baez, who charged off the mound to a sea of high-fives in the Dodgers' dugout, and it was an important moment for Mattingly and the Dodgers, who have been desperately searching for a right-handed power arm to get the ball to Jansen.
Mattingly is putting Baez into incrementally tougher spots, and Friday was his highest-leverage outing yet. And why not? He throws 98 mph and opponents are batting .155 against him in his short major league career. It's entirely reminiscent of Jansen, a converted catcher, a few years ago.
"He's given us a power arm out there, a guy who can make a mistake and miss a bat," Mattingly said of Baez. "That's the one thing we like to see, that velocity. Even if you get one down the middle, they may foul it back or pop it up."
Baez's outing put everyone into easier roles. J.P. Howell was able to get his lefty, Ender Inciarte, and then hand the ball to Brian Wilson, who got Cody Ross to fly out. Jansen had only to get three outs, and he did so easily to record his 40th save.
There are going to be nights like this, when it's all about pitching, and the Dodgers will take contributions from anyone who can kick in a little bit. Friday, it started with a guy, Haren, pitching in his 355th career game, and it continued through a guy, Baez, pitching his 13th. You get the impression they're going to need them both.