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Haren not to be forgotten in deep Dodgers rotation

Veteran right-hander returning to Southern California roots to help put LA over top @LyleMSpencer

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Arriving at the Dodgers' Spring Training complex, Dan Haren settled into a locker between Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke in an expensive corner of the clubhouse.

"The high-rent neighborhood," Haren said, grinning. "I don't know if I belong here."

Oh, he belongs. While his free-agent contract terms might pale in comparison to those of the twin aces, Haren, 33, has been among the game's best, most durable starters for 11 seasons. Finishing 2013 on a strong note with the Washington Nationals after a sluggish start, Haren came to terms with his hometown Dodgers on a $10 million deal for 2014, with a vesting option for '15.

Don Mattingly, his new manager, is confidently slotting Haren into the No. 4 spot in his rotation behind Kershaw, Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, with Josh Beckett taking the comeback trail in an effort to round out a loaded rotation.

"Right now, Danny is that next guy," Mattingly said on Wednesday. "We were really encouraged by the way he pitched toward the end of the season. Danny is another guy who you feel is going to give you a good start every time out.

"He's a tough matchup, a tough guy to prepare for. He gives you a very tough look with his delivery, his variety of pitches. With what he's done his whole career, this is a solid guy to have out there every fifth day."

A Southern California native schooled at Bishop Amat High School in La Puente and Pepperdine University in Malibu, Haren was home for the winter. He's keenly aware of the expectations the Dodgers have generated under the banner of Guggenheim Partners CEO Mark Walter.

The Dodgers' loss in six games to St. Louis in the National League Championship Series did little to diminish the excitement created by a spectacular second half and NL Division Series triumph over the Braves.

"The sky's the limit for this team," Haren said. "I know from facing them how deep the lineup is, with speed at the top and all these guys who can hit 20 homers in the middle.

"I was part of a great rotation in Washington last year, and this one is pretty special. Obviously, Clayton is the best pitcher in baseball, and Zack is a guy I admire a lot. And this bullpen is unbelievable, with three experienced closers [Kenley Jansen, Brian Wilson and Chris Perez].

"On this team, you can give six strong innings and feel real good about your chances. On a lot of good teams, you've got to go seven, but here there are four, five, even six guys you can give the ball to. I think we're in a really good spot."

Since moving into Oakland's rotation in 2005, Haren has won at least 14 games six times, peaking at 16 with the 2008 D-backs and '11 Angels. He averaged 226 innings across seven consecutive seasons, culminating with a career-high 238 1/3 in '11.

The workload caught up with Haren when shoulder issues limited him to 176 2/3 innings in 2012, his final season with the Angels. Returning to the NL with the Nationals, Haren struggled through a 4-10 first half with a 5.61 ERA before finding a rhythm after the All-Star break and going 6-4, 3.52 down the stretch.

"I got hurt by home runs," Haren said. "I'd pitch three scoreless innings and then have a bad inning. In the second half, I was keeping the ball in the park and getting better results."

After surrendering 19 homers in 93 first-half innings, Haren watched only nine drives disappear in 76 2/3 innings after the break.

This is an occupational hazard for men who pound the strike zone, and Haren is a control artist with few equals. He has a 4.08 strikeouts-to-walks ratio across 2,046 1/3 career innings, having led the league three times.

His fastball sitting at 88-90 mph, Haren throws cutters and splits, mixing in an occasional curveball. His repertoire was formed in his junior year in high school.

"Growing up, I was a hockey fan back when [Wayne] Gretzky was traded over to the Kings," Haren said. "We had season seats at the Great Western Forum. I loved that team. I played rollerblade hockey right up to high school on a Boys' and Girls' Club team.

"I wasn't the biggest baseball fan growing up; I just liked to play it. When I started throwing the split in high school, I loved watching Roger Clemens, [Curt] Schilling, guys who threw the split."

Pepperdine recruited Haren as an infielder and pitcher. He was an offensive force playing first and third base before he excelled on the mound.

"I wasn't a big prospect in high school," he said, "and I never really thought of playing professionally."

St. Louis took Haren in the second round of the 2001 First-Year Player Draft. After parts of two seasons with the Cards, he was dealt to Oakland for Mark Mulder.

An immediate hit with the A's, Haren went 14-12 with a 3.73 ERA in 2005 before starting the 2007 All-Star Game for the American League in San Francisco -- his first of three consecutive All-Star selections. He was a combined 30-18 in 2008-09 with the D-backs, who shipped him to the Angels at midseason in 2010.

Now with the hometown Dodgers, Haren brings his bat with his glove, joining Silver Slugger Greinke on a staff that led the NL in average (.176) and on-base percentage (.233), finishing just behind the Cubs in slugging (.229 to .227).

Since 2005, Haren leads Major League pitchers in average (.236) and OBP (.254), and he's second in slugging (.339) to Yovani Gallardo.

"I don't think I've ever been the third-best hitting pitcher on a staff," Haren said, acknowledging his place in the high-rent district.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for

Los Angeles Dodgers, Dan Haren