Dan Haren leads a revitalized back of the rotation

Three or four years ago, Dan Haren could overpower hitters and, when they began to get on his 93-mph fastball, throw a split-finger pitch that would make them look foolish.

Now, he’s a different pitcher, a series of minor injuries sapping some of his arm strength. He has to use his wiles.

You could see him thinking his way through the Angels lineup in Thursday’s Cactus League game at Tempe Diablo Stadium, where Haren used to train. These days, Haren’s pitch of choice most often is his cutter and, when you see him running it in effectively on left-handed hitters, you have a pretty good idea things are working well for him.

He got Raul Ibanez to swing and miss at something off-speed in the second inning. Two innings later, Ibanez looked fooled while hitting a weak infield pop-up. Erick Aybar took a called third strike. Kole Calhoun hit a little tapper to Adrian Gonzalez.

This is how Haren does things these days and it added up to four scoreless innings, continuing a strong early spring (1.50 ERA) for the veteran right-hander.

Haren continuing his strong finish to 2013 is far from the only good news the Dodgers have gotten lately from the back of their rotation. As Zack Greinke works his way back from a strained right calf and Clayton Kershaw continues to beat himself up for some shaky early outings, the rest of the rotation has produced nothing but positive story lines.

Josh Beckett continues to wait nervously for something to go wrong in his surgically repaired right shoulder, but so far it hasn’t. He has been pain-free all spring and, the other day, got back on a mound in a competitive situation for the first time in 10 months and pitched two scoreless innings. Could he be all the way back, and what would that mean for a rotation already viewed as formidable?

Even Chad Billingsley is making waves. According to MLB.com, he was touching 90 mph in a bullpen session Thursday. The Dodgers now expect him to be pitching for them some time in May, a couple of months ahead of a typical Tommy John rehab schedule.

It appears as if Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu will make the two starts in Australia, which are just a couple of weeks away. Greinke threw a bullpen session Thursday and looks like he’ll be healthy going into April. But nobody worried much about those three guys going into the spring. The pitchers people wondered about were the two coming off surgery and Haren, who is trying to re-invent himself.

As always with such rebound efforts, it’s a delicate process. But with just 10 days left in the desert, the results have been nothing but encouraging.