It's generally best to avoid giving up on top-40 starting pitchers in April, but perhaps Washington Nationals right-hander Dan Haren should never have been given that somewhat-lofty consideration in the first place.
For years, Haren has been a reliable rock for fantasy owners, delivering far more than 200 innings, strong strikeout totals and a low WHIP. He's also been durable, and while his 2012 campaign was his worst since 2005, a move to baseball's top team in the easier National League and the motivation of a one-year contract figured to fix all problems.
Well, perhaps not.
Monday's performance at home against the St. Louis Cardinals was actually somewhat promising for a while, but then came the sixth inning, in which Haren couldn't register any outs, and it seemed like more of the same. It's the fourth consecutive outing Haren didn't look much like a 200-inning pitcher, allowing six hits, three walks and three runs. His ERA stands at 7.36, his WHIP a disturbing 1.96, and with 18 1/3 innings through four starts and no more than five innings in any, at this pace 200 innings just isn't going to occur.
So what's the issue? Haren claims he's healthy, coming off a season in which hip and back issues were blamed for a 4.33 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and only 30 starts. He told reporters the typical fare afterward, that he's going to get better and nobody's more frustrated than he is.
Well, I think fantasy owners are kind of frustrated too, but then again, with each outing there are considerably fewer than the outing before. By the end of this week, Haren will likely be available in more ESPN standard leagues than he's owned in, and while I'm going to try to keep him owned in the league I have him in, it's getting tougher to justify. Maybe the Angels knew more than they were willing to admit when they let Haren walk this winter without compensation.
Haren entered the sixth inning Monday having allowed only four hits and two walks, a serious upgrade on previous outings, but he hit Matt Holliday with a pitch, Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina singled to score a run, David Freese walked, and his night was over.
Haren's velocity has actually been up a tick from last year, and while it's a small sample, he has been getting strikeouts and avoiding walks. He's just been way too hittable, permitting an astounding .376 batting average against. Ever the fly-ball hurler, Haren has been allowing line drives on more than a quarter of batted balls, which is always a recipe for disaster. Even last season, Haren's line-drive rate wasn't outrageous. It currently is.
Haren was one of the pitchers I paid attention to in spring training, as injury, velocity and location were all factors that influenced how well I was prepared to rank him. It wasn't a particularly strong March performance for Haren. Still, I left him in my top 40, thinking the move to the weaker NL, combined with reasonable skills from last year, would be enough. Perhaps they will be.
I said last week I would stick with Haren over enticing Cincinnati Reds rookie Tony Cingrani, but that was more based on the young lefty being a tad overrated from minor league performance and what could be a short stint in the majors until Johnny Cueto returns. Now, I'd do the opposite. I'd also take Ross Detwiler, Ervin Santana, Carlos Villanueva and Travis Wood over Haren. That sounds ridiculous based on name value, but that's the reality at this point.
Box score bits (NL): Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon doubled in a run for his first big league hit Monday. He's 1-for-8 with four strikeouts but will play the next two weeks while Ryan Zimmerman (hamstring) heals. ... A pair of Philadelphia Phillies pitching prospects enjoyed their Monday. Right-hander Jonathan Pettibone allowed two runs in his big league debut against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Pettibone struck out six and walked none. He is far from an elite prospect but could stick around for John Lannan and be worth an addition in NL-only formats. Dynasty owners, meanwhile, should keep the name Jesse Biddle in mind. The 21-year-old lefty struck out 16 for Double-A Reading against Harrisburg, allowing one hit in seven shutout innings. Biddle could hit the majors in 2014. ... Cincinnati Reds outfielder Jay Bruce hit his first home run of 2013 and later doubled in a pair. There's no reason for alarm with the reliable Bruce. ... Atlanta Braves outfielder Jason Heyward underwent an appendectomy Monday, which might explain his struggles but could result in a DL stint. Don't drop Heyward.
Box score bits (AL): Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton was moved from the cleanup spot to No. 5 and hit four singles and scored twice Monday. Hey, whatever works, but it likely wasn't the minor lineup change. Still, Hamilton has been a prime buy-low option all along. ...Tampa Bay Rays lefty Matt Moore tossed a career-high 117 pitches in shutting down the New York Yankees in eight innings of one-run ball. Moore allowed two hits and struck out nine. He's 4-0 with a 1.04 ERA, and it's all legitimate. ... Rays second baseman Ryan Roberts, popular in his breakout 2011 (19 HR, 18 SB) and disappointing in 2012 (.235 batting average), smacked a pair of solo home runs off CC Sabathia. Roberts isn't a bad daily-league option when facing a lefty; he's 10-for-22 off them this season. ... Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis still isn't hitting much, but his stolen base Monday was his second in four games. That's a nice sign. ... Another good sign: Seattle Mariners catcher Jesus Montero launched his first home run and knocked in three. He's not among my top 10 catchers, but I do believe he can hit .275 with 20 home runs. ... Boston Red Sox lefty Felix Doubront walked five Oakland Athletics Monday but struck out eight in his 6 2/3 innings. I generally shy away from walkers like Doubront, but the strikeout upside is legitimate. This weekend he'll face the Houston Astros, making him a terrific spot-start option.