LOS ANGELES -- If there has been a weak link so far this season in a Los Angeles Dodgers starting rotation that mostly has been nothing short of golden, it has been Aaron Harang, the veteran right-hander bringing a 5.24 ERA and less than six innings per start into Saturday night's game against the Colorado Rockies.
That so-called weak link, however, held together better, and longer, than it had all season in a 2-1 Dodgers victory before 33,735 at Dodger Stadium.
Harang survived a third-inning scare, then pretty much sailed through eight innings, scattering four hits. That one of those hits was a tying, solo homer by Tyler Colvin with two outs in the eighth turned out not to matter much after the Dodgers put together a rally in the bottom of the eighth that netted the only other run they needed, allowing Harang to even his record at 2-2 on an evening when his ERA shrank by more than three-quarters of a run, to 4.46.
Harang, who hadn't gone longer than 6 1/3 in any of his previous six starts this season, made it through eight on a remarkably efficient 97 pitches, taking advantage just as teammate Chris Capuano had on Friday night of the aggressive approach of the Rockies hitters.
"I was getting ahead early and throwing strikes down in the zone," Harang said. "Those guys were taking their swings, so I just tried to keep the ball down in the zone and keep it out of the air."
Manager Don Mattingly asked Harang after the seventh, the inning he gave up the homer to Colvin, whether he wanted to continue, especially given that his spot in the order didn't come up in the bottom of that inning.
"He said he felt great," Mattingly said. "He is one of those guys who are pretty honest. If he can't go, he will tell you. But we got the chance to keep him inn there, and he had a nice, easy (eighth) inning."
The Dodgers signed Harang last winter, giving him a two-year, $12 million contract with an $8 million club option for 2014, based largely on Harang's solid track record. He went 14-7 with a 3.64 ERA for his hometown San Diego Padres last year and had been a staff ace for the Cincinnati Reds in years past, winning 53 games for them over a four-year stretch from 2004-2007 before running into hard times and injuries.
The Dodgers pegged him as their fourth starter, slightly ahead of Capuano in the pecking order. But Capuano has been far better this season than anyone expected him to be while Harang has struggled at times. But if Harang has really turned it around, then it is almost scary to consider how good this rotation can be collectively. Dodgers starters now are a combined 15-5 with a 2.82 ERA, and two of those starters, Capuano and Ted Lilly, have yet to lose this year.
"I was really pleased with this one," Harang said. "I had a few rough ones earlier in the year. Now, I'm looking forward to my next start already. I will prepare this week for it and go out and see what happens."
Mattingly was asked after the game if he wanted to gloat over the fact that a sacrifice bunt in the bottom of the eighth inning -- a sac bunt by catcher A.J. Ellis, who is hitting .308 with a ridiculous .455 on-base percentage -- worked out perfectly, setting up the game-winning hit by Tony Gwynn.
Mattingly, you may recall, received heavy criticism after two sac bunts in consecutive innings on Tuesday night against the San Francisco Giants failed to net a run, a critical development in a one-run loss.
Mattingly shook his head.
"I just make decisions, really, to try to win games," he said. "I heard all the different stuff (Tuesday), but you just make decisions. Sometimes they work out, and sometimes they don't. To me, it doesn't mean they're wrong when they don't work out."
By that logic, of course, it also doesn't mean they're right when they do work out. But in this case, the Dodgers won, so draw your own conclusions.