Off the field, Dan Haren is anything but robotic. On the mound, the Diamondbacks right-hander likes to keep things simple. The approach has worked well for the 29-year-old Pepperdine product, as his resume includes five-plus seasons with impressive innings pitched and strikeout totals and three All-Star berths. How long he remains in the desert is a question that only GM Josh Byrnes can answer, but the well-spoken hurler answered several other queries when the D-Backs visited Fenway Park last week.
David Laurila: It is often said that hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports. What about throwing a baseball, specifically from 60 feet, six inches?
Dan Haren: Well, it’s not easy, that’s for sure. In my years, I’ve seen a lot of ups and I’ve seen a lot of downs. In some cases, it’s kind of easy to get to the big leagues, but it is obviously extremely difficult to stay. Pitching is something where, right when you feel like you’re on top, it will bring you right back down; it will humble you pretty quickly and bring you back to reality. It’s a long season and you go through a lot of emotions. There are going to be times where you get beat up, and there are times when you throw eight scoreless, so it’s not easy.
DL: Do those ups and downs sometimes come with similar performances?
DH: Yeah, a lot of baseball is luck. There will games where a few bloopers fall in, maybe there’s a bad call, and then boom! —a double in the gap and your day is done. That’s just baseball. There are other days where you load the bases with walks and throw a meatball right down the middle, and the guy lines out. That’s just the way it is. But the consistent, good pitchers in the game make their pitches more often than not; they keep the ball down and throw a lot of strikes. There is a common denominator for most of the elite pitchers in the league.
DL: Is pitching fun?
DH: Sometimes. For me, it’s probably more stressful than fun. What’s fun for me is the day after a win. Then it’s fun to come to the field and enjoy that day, but the actual day of pitching is more stress than fun. A lot of times, throughout the course of the day that I pitch, I can’t eat and I’m constantly thinking about how I’m going to get particular hitters out. Sometimes it can be a little scary. I mean, the fear to fail always creeps into your mind and I think that’s what gives me the adrenaline and the energy to fight on the mound.
DL: Once the game is over, to what extent do you relive situations?
DH: If it’s good, I’ll relive it plenty. If it’s bad, I try my best to forget about it. When things are going good, maybe I’ll open a newspaper, or turn on a sports channel, but when things are going bad, there will be weeks that go by where I couldn’t tell you a statistic for any other major-league player in baseball. I just try to worry about my own business. Positive reinforcement is always good, so watching yourself do well is a healthy thing. On the flip side of that, there are plenty of negative things out there and people have to write what they have to write, and that’s fine. I just try to distance myself from that.
DL: Brian Bannister has described himself as “a student of the game of baseball.” Do you look at yourself in a similar way?
DH: Well, not exactly. I’m not saying that I have everything figured out, but I really try to simplify things. One of my close friends in the league is Barry Zito and we kind of joke about ourselves, calling each other robots, almost. I go out every five days and throw 110 pitches, or whatever it is, and I put 100-percent effort into those 110 pitches, and whatever happens, happens. The excess baggage that you take with you from start to start—from previous starts—only hurts you, so I try to go out there kind of like a robot. I do my best and whatever happens, happens.
DL: Essentially, what you’re saying is that you try not to think too much?
DH: Absolutely. Scouting reports, and all that stuff—I don’t really look at them. I haven’t watched video in two years. There’s a certain way that I pitch, and whether it’s a guy’s strength or his weakness—unless it’s a glaring strength or a glaring weakness—I’m just going to pitch my game. They can adjust to me. I’ve been successful doing that, for the most part, and this year hasn’t gone the way other years have, so I’ve made some adjustments and they’ve helped me. I just go out and try to do my best, make adjustments on the fly, and give it my all.
DL: You’ve been with three organizations. Have they primarily let you go out and do your own thing, or have any of them had a specific approach they wanted their pitchers to follow?
DH: The three organizations I’ve been with have been completely different, in different kinds of ways. I really wasn’t a starter with St. Louis—I can barely even remember any games with them—and Oakland had more of the approach where they just let me go out and do my thing. They saw that I had some talent, so they traded for me. I struggled there my first year there, and I remember worrying about getting sent down to the minor leagues, but I talked to Billy—to Billy Beane—and he said that I was going to be there, regardless. Whether I was 0-7, or whatever I was, I was going to be there, so I went out and started winning a few games and it went from there. My career has taken off ever since probably my first 10 starts in Oakland. I struggled a lot, and after that I’ve been pretty good.
DL: Prior to the first game of each series, the pitching staff goes over how to attack the opposing team. Are those meetings usually helpful, or mostly reiterations of “keep the ball down and change speeds”?
DH: Well, first of all, I don’t really sit in on the pitchers’ meetings. I haven’t done that in years, but before the game I’ll maybe go over the lineup with my catcher and pitching coach for two or three minutes. Like I said, I just kind of…I like to look at who walks, who strikes out a little bit, who is aggressive on the first pitch, is there a glaring weakness or a strength for this guy? If there’s a strength for a guy—maybe he handles a curveball well, so OK, I won’t throw him that many curveballs. But for the most part, I’m going to go out and pitch my game. Some guys have had success against me in the past, so I’ll think about why and maybe try something different. But I try not to think too much about it.
DL: Why don’t you sit in on the pitchers’ meetings—is it optional?
DH: It’s information overload, and for a starting pitcher, yes, it is optional. I just think it’s information overload, and if they’re describing a hitter—what he likes to do—it doesn’t really make sense to me, because all pitchers are different. Maybe [the hitter] will hit a slider, but he can’t hit my cutter, or maybe he handles fastballs out over well, but if it’s a four-seam fastball, he struggles. Pitchers are so different that you can’t go over one specific hitter and expect it to be the same for all of the pitchers. All pitchers are different.
DL: Miguel Montero told me that pitchers are stubborn. Is that true?
DH: It’s very true. In my case, a lot of times if I throw a pitch that I didn’t like—a curveball, the way I didn’t like it, for a ball, or maybe I lose it out away from the plate — I like to throw that pitch again. I want to try to get that good feeling for it. So yeah, pitchers are stubborn. If they’ve done one thing right in the past, they feel like they should do it the same the next time, but in that case you also have to adjust to the hitters. You can’t get guys out the same way every time.
DL: Are you the same pitcher now that you were three or four years ago?
DH: I’m completely different. Every year it seems like something is changed for me. The first year I came to Oakland, in ‘05, I didn’t even throw a curveball—I’ve developed a curveball. I was pretty much fastball, split, a few curveballs, and I’ve developed a cutter. My command has come a long way. This year I started off using a ton of cutters, but I’ve backed off of that and am using more fastballs. I’m constantly changing as a pitcher, but if you look at a lot of pitchers around the league, their stuff changes year to year. Maybe their fastball … look at [Tim] Lincecum, you know. He’s not necessarily throwing as hard as he was, but his off-speed stuff is so good. His changeup and curveball are so good that he gets by with that and he still throws hard enough to get guys out.
DL: Are you a different pitcher in different games?
DH: Yeah, depending on what’s working. There will be games that go by where maybe I don’t have my split and I have to use other stuff. And a lot of times I’ll feel good in the bullpen but then I get out on the mound and it feels like, “Where did that pitch go?” I’ll have no feeling for it. You know, there’s a time and a place and maybe there’s a situation where I can work on something during the game and try to get that pitch right, but if that’s not the case, I have to bag it and go to my other pitches. I have four pitches that I can throw for a strike, and I can use them all in any count, any time I want.
DL: To close, how different are you away from the game than you are on the field?
DH: I’d like to think that I’m the same person. I pride myself on the way I act around the clubhouse, and at home, and more when I lose than when I win. It’s easy to be on top of the world and treat everybody like they’re a great guy when you’re winning, so it’s how you handle yourself when you lose. That’s when you see what a person is really like. I’ve been around a lot of veteran pitchers that have handled their business the right way, guys like Matt Morris, Woody Williams, Zito—those guys have taught me how to act on and off the field. I take pride in the way that people look at me on the field, but even more so the way that people think that I handle my business off the field.