Harang focused on starting amid rotation logjam
Veteran right-hander stands as one of Dodgers' eight starting options
MESA, Ariz. -- Aaron Harang is a starting pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
And until someone tells the burly right-hander otherwise, that's exactly what he's preparing for this spring.
Never mind that the Dodgers' offseason acquisitions of Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu have -- on paper -- made Harang appear to be the odd man out.
Actually, he's potentially one of three odd men out, as the Dodgers have eight starting pitchers on the Spring Training roster for whom the Minor Leagues are not in play -- either because of a lack of options or, as in Ryu's case, a contract clause preventing it.
So, if Harang can't lock down one of the club's five starting spots, two options remain: a trip to the bullpen or a trade.
"We'll just have to sit back and wait and see how things are going as camp goes on," Harang said after tossing a pair of night-and-day innings against the Cubs in Mesa on Wednesday. "I have to keep the mental mindset that I'm going to be a starter.
"There's all sorts of scenarios out there right now, and if guys are traded, we're all starters. If we do get sent somewhere else, and they want us to be a starter, we can't have the mindset of 'Oh, I'm going to be a reliever.'"
Much of the talk surrounding the Dodgers' staff this spring has been of the eight-guys-for-five-spots dynamic. Manager Don Mattingly was quick to point out that an eight-for-six approach might be more accurate, if the club decides to keep an extra starter to pitch out of the bullpen. That would allow the Dodgers to stash someone in the bullpen in case of emergency.
After that, however, when camp breaks there isn't much Los Angeles can do to retain its spring depth.
"Eight guys give you depth, so everybody right now is going, 'Oh, the Dodgers have eight starters and it's great,'" Mattingly said. "Well, none of them have options. We've got eight Major League starters. You can't keep them anywhere. You can't keep them throwing and be able to get them later.
"Once Spring Training is over, if they're not on our roster, they're done. I shouldn't say they're done, but we don't have any control anymore. Eight really turns to five, and if one of them can pitch out of the bullpen, then you say you've got six."
Mattingly went into detail about who might be capable of making the transition from veteran starter to a role in the bullpen.
He noted left-hander Chris Capuano as a situational arm, who may be able to get lefties out in the late innings, while also providing length if needed. Lefties hit 31 points worse than righties against Capuano last season, and they hit just three homers compared with 22 from the right side.
Mattingly also said Chad Billingsley's ability to work out of trouble could make him useful late in a game, though Billingsley will likely remain in the rotation, provided the effects of his partially torn elbow ligament don't linger.
"Aaron Harang doesn't seem like the kind of guy that pitches out of the 'pen, to me," Mattingly said. "He's a routine guy. They're all routine guys, but his is more of a controlled [routine]. To me, he's more of a guy that paints, and he keeps you in the game. He's not that guy that's going to come in and overpower anybody."
Harang wasn't overpowering anybody in the first inning Wednesday, allowing four runs in his spring debut. The Cubs battered him for five hits in the frame, but in Harang's defense, he had to battle a long break between his warmup and the bottom of the first.
In the second -- after a similar lengthy break -- Harang needed just 10 pitches to retire the side in order. He attributed his improvement to staying loose in the tunnel between innings.
Even with the pressure to earn a role, Harang said he isn't pitching to impress this spring.
"I'm going to try not to worry about that," Harang said. "I need to do what I need to do to get ready, and that's make sure that all my pitches are fine-tuned."
One of those pitches -- his curveball -- got a boost from an all-time expert. Dodgers legend and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax is working with the club as an instructor, and he suggested Harang try a new grip. Harang did so a handful of times Wednesday and said it felt good.
And that's exactly where Harang wants to keep his focus this spring: on the mechanics. "I'm just going about my business, making sure mechanically, I'm where I need to be," Harang said.
In that case, the only question that remains is: Where, exactly, do the Dodgers need Harang?
AJ Cassavell is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.