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May 30, 2012

What You Need to Know

Wednesday, May 30

by Daniel Rathman

The Tuesday Takeaway
Albert Pujols went 2-for-4 with a home run in the Angels’ 5-1 win over the Yankees last night, giving him seven big flies in his last 14 games. It seems the $254 million man is going to be just fine. But the recent resurgence of Dan Haren is equally important to Mike Scioscia’s team, which will be without Jered Weaver for 3-4 weeks because of a lower-back injury.

Haren has dealt with back woes this season, too, and perhaps the pain associated with them affected his mechanics and thus his performance. The 31-year-old may not be the league’s most dominant pitcher, but he is arguably its most dependable, having never missed a scheduled start and posted an xFIP between 3.02 and 3.49 in each of the past four seasons. So when Haren lost consecutive starts to the Twins, A’s, and Padres—three of the worst offensive teams in baseball—earlier this month, there was some cause for concern.

There were notable warning signs in the first two of those three defeats. Against the Twins, Haren failed to strike out a batter for just the third time in his career and the first since June 10, 2004. Against the A’s, Haren issued four walks in an outing of six or fewer innings for the first time since August 25, 2010. This was one of those times when eyes and numbers unanimously agreed: Haren did not look right.

He was fortunate to draw a fourth consecutive easy assignment in the Mariners on May 24, though—and he took advantage. Faced with the possibility of losing five straight starts for the first time in his career, Haren fired a four-hit shutout and struck out 14 without walking a batter. But wins over the Mariners, even resounding ones, should be taken with a grain of salt.

On Tuesday, Haren erased any lingering doubts by holding the Yankees to just one run over seven innings while fanning seven and walking none. One of the few pitchers in the league to enjoy consistent success against the Yankees’ lineup, Haren entered with a 6-1 record and 3.22 ERA in 11 prior meetings with New York. With his fourth victory of the season and seventh lifetime over the Yankees, it’s safe to say that Haren—like Pujols—is back.

What to Watch for on Wednesday

  • Alex Cobb was just 1-4 with a 4.14 ERA for Triple-A Durham, but he has made it look easy in the majors so far, winning both of his first two starts. On Wednesday (1:10 p.m. ET), he’ll try to tame the hottest lineup in baseball—the White Sox, who have scored at least six runs in six of their last seven games and thrice reached double-digits. Robin Ventura’s team has gone an absurd 31-for-65 with runners in scoring position over its last six contests.
  • Johnny Cueto got a rude introduction to the world of BABIP and left-on-base percentage regression in his last start, coughing up five runs on 11 hits to the Rockies in 4 2/3 innings. But if facing the Mariners is the cure for any American League pitcher’s ills, then a date with the Pirates is the same for senior circuit hurlers, and Cueto gets precisely what the doctor ordered as he looks to bounce back tonight (7:05 p.m. ET).
  • Scott Hairston—who smacked a pinch-hit, two-run homer off righty Joe Blanton yesterday—has lingered in the majors thanks largely to his ability to mash left-handed pitching. The 32-year-old has been particularly outstanding against southpaws in 2012, batting .321/.367/.643 with five homers in 60 plate appearances, including one each off Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. He’ll look to do it again against the latter tonight (7:10 p.m. ET).
  • Keep your favorite caffeinated drink handy this evening, because you do not want to fall asleep before the late slate of games out west. Yovani Gallardo meets Clayton Kershaw in Los Angeles at 10:10 p.m. ET, and five minutes later, Tim Lincecum will throw the first pitch of his matchup with Ian Kennedy in San Francisco. At least one of the two should be a duel worth staying up for.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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