But right after turning 30 in 2008, Harang appeared in an extra-innings game on May 25, pitching innings 13-16 against the Padres. This came three days after his most recent start and he would be asked to start again four days later. In the start prior to the relief appearance, Harang had pitched 5 1/3 innings, coughing up five runs in what was one of his worst starts of the season. However, he only saw his ERA increase to 3.50 off the 103-pitch outing.
He didn’t give up any runs in the relief outing over 63 pitches and was brilliant, striking out nine in the process, but coughed up six runs in four innings against the Pirates in his next start, tossing 73 pitches. That’s 239 pitches over an eight-day span, by the way.
It would only get worse from there. In the 18 starts Harang made after the relief outing, his ERA was a sky-high 5.88 and he was never the same, spending a month on the disabled list for a forearm strain. He made just 26 starts in 2009 and 20 in 2010, combining for a 4.66 ERA over these 46 starts with 274 innings pitched. To compare, Harang made 35 starts in 2006, pitching 234 1/3 innings. That’s a difference of 11 starts and just 39 2/3 innings.
And now, Harang finally admits that relief outing is what derailed his career. Now a Padre, Harang is attempting to recapture the magic of days old, but Dusty Baker’s bizarre pitching decisions may have claimed another victim.
“What it did,” Harang said of the relief appearance to the San Diego Union-Tribune, “is fatigue me beyond the point of recovery. I started to change my arm angle to compensate for the fatigue and that’s when my forearm started to bother me.
“I feel like I’ve never been able to get back to the consistent, repetitive mechanics that I had,” he continued. “The last couple of years have been, ‘Try this, try that. Move your arm angle out a little.’ I’ve had a couple of my old coaches call me, asking, ‘What are you doing? You had so much success before doing the same thing. Now, all of a sudden, you’re turning your back on that?’
Frankly, the whole “Dusty Baker ruins arms” meme is way overplayed. I’m not a fully-paid member of the Dusty Fan Club, but this is one area where he gets a bad rap, in my opinion.
The Harang situation, however, raised eyebrows from the very first moment. It was a dumb decision by Baker, and it isn’t a stretch to say that Baker bears some responsibility for the downturn of Harang’s career. Was it the sole reason? Probably not, and no one will ever know. Harang himself — and Aaron Harang is a stand-up guy if ever there were one — says his problems originated there, and I’m surprised to read those quotes. Who knows?
There is one thing I do know: Dusty should get credit for only using Josh Fogg for one inning (the 10th) of that game, thereby preserving Fogg’s golden arm. Why don’t we ever hear praise for that decision?