Haren gives D-backs enough breathing room

Haren gives D-backs enough breathing room

PHOENIX -- Ten starts into his 2010 season, Dan Haren has been lauded for his exploits in the batter's box rather than his production on the mound. After all, the All-Star pitcher's 4.79 ERA (in 67 2/3 innings) pales in partnership with his .414 batting average (12 base-knocks in 29 at-bats).

Responding to a reporter's question prior to the D-backs' series opener Friday night against the Toronto Blue Jays, manager A.J. Hinch scoffed at the notion that Haren would bat when a future dose of Interleague Play pushed his team to an American League park. Hinch knows Haren the pitcher (not the batter) is most important.

  • 134 wins
  • 118 wins

Of course, that doesn't mean he won't welcome the successes offered by both.

Haren smacked two doubles, drove in three runs and pitched eight solid innings as his D-backs narrowly escaped travel-weary Toronto, 8-6, in front of 19,531 at Chase Field.

Perhaps of the most significance: About a fourth of the way through their 162-game schedule, the D-backs secured their first three-game win streak of the year. Twenty-three extra-base hits, including nine home runs, over that span sure helped.

"It's so early in the year that we knew that how we were playing before wasn't the team that we are," said Conor Jackson, who doubled off Jays starter Brandon Morrow. "The last couple of games have proven how resilient we are as a team -- and that we can rake."

That's not to say that Friday night ended as cleanly as it started. Haren (5-3) allowed four solo home runs -- one each to Fred Lewis and Jose Bautista and two to Edwin Encarnacion -- just the second time in his career he allowed four. The visitors lifted two more solo shots against reliever Juan Gutierrez in the ninth, including Encarnacion's third of the evening, before Hinch called on Chad Qualls for the closer's second one-out save in as many nights.

"They say solo home runs can't beat you," Hinch said, "and we tested that tonight."

"That's a tough lineup," Haren added. "Every guy can hit it out, and it looks like they have one thing in mind, to let loose and try to hit homers. I've never seen anything like it, really."

Haren also required defensive aid to pitch around back-to-back Toronto singles in the fourth (Jackson's diving catch) and sixth (a swiftly-turned double play). But, all in all, he rebounded from his start in Atlanta five days ago, when he allowed seven runs in a season-low 4 1/3 innings. In his 110-pitch effort Friday night, he allowed nine hits, but struck out eight and did not issue a walk in his eight frames.

Haren said he mixed in more four-seam fastballs on the inside of the plate in order to keep opposing batters from leaning out for a swipe at his cutter. Home runs aside, he was content with his outing.

The Jays' Brandon Morrow (3-4), who carried an 8.00 ERA in four road starts entering his fifth Thursday, was not -- he allowed six runs on eight hits and was pulled after four frames.

Arizona answered Lewis' leadoff long ball -- D-backs hurlers have yielded three leadoff home runs this season -- in the second with Adam LaRoche's two-run shot off of Morrow. Chris Young's solo blast in the seventh proved useful, too.

Prior to the Jays' ninth-inning uprising, the D-backs built their advantage by rallying for four fourth-inning runs. The middle-of-the-order sluggers got it started: Justin Upton led off the inning with a two-bagger to deep left-center field, LaRoche skied a fly ball to short left field, causing Lewis and Encarnacion to collide, and Mark Reynolds drove his teammates home with a liner over Encarnacion's outstretched glove.

Three batters later, the hot-hitting Haren showed bunt before slicing a two-run double over Jays second baseman Aaron Hill's head. And after Chris Snyder drew a walk in the sixth, Haren laced another run-scoring double into deep center field.

Haren even had words with home-plate umpire Mike Muchlinski after striking out looking in his fourth and final at-bat in the seventh, as any big-league hitter worth his salt would do.

"He pretty much beat us all by himself," said Jays manager Cito Gaston.

And it could be another start or two before Haren's ERA is juxtaposed more favorably with his batting average.

"I haven't thought about [DH-ing]," Haren joked. "I can sit on my numbers for a few games."

Andrew Pentis is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.