Aaron Harang says struggles stemmed from 2008 relief appearance

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It wasn’t too long ago that Aaron Harang was considered one of baseball’s most durable workhorses. For example, he tossed a total of 677 2/3 innings between 2005-07. Only Brandon Webb and Johan Santana logged more innings during that time period.

Harang had a very respectable 3.50 ERA over his first 11 starts into the 2008 season, but the big right-hander tells Don Norcross of the San Diego Union-Tribune that everything changed after Dusty Baker asked him to make a four-inning relief appearance against the Padres on just three days’ rest.

Including his next start four days later, Harang threw a total of 239 pitches in three games over the course of eight days. The damage was done.

“What it did,” said Harang, “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.”

Harang tried to pitch through the injury initially, but eventually spent over a month on the disabled list later that summer. He has an ugly 5.00 ERA over 379 2/3 innings since the relief appearance in question. While he feels healthy now, he’s still trying to get his mechanics back in order.

“I feel like I’ve never been able to get back to the consistent, repetitive mechanics that I had,” he said. “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?’

“I got away from my main thing, which is throwing my fastball (primarily) and throwing everything off that. I got to thinking I’m going to trick people and it just didn’t work.”

Harang may never be a top-of-the-rotation starter again, but there’s reason for optimism now that he has signed with his hometown Padres. He should find PETCO Park to be a much more forgiving environment than Great American Ballpark ever was. The good news is that Harang’s secondary numbers haven’t been nearly as ugly as his ERA, so it might not take much for him to be a real bargain for Padres GM Jed Hoyer.

The Mets are a mess

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The Mets lost again on Thursday afternoon, suffering a 7-5 defeat at the hands of the Braves. It’s their sixth consecutive loss and the club is now in last place in the NL East. Not exactly the start the Mets envisioned.

Matt Harvey got the start, but lasted only 4 1/3 innings. He gave up six runs on five hits and five walks with only one strikeout. After the game, Harvey said he was tight and that he threw yesterday expecting to start on Friday instead, per Matt Ehalt of The Record. Sounds like no one communicated to Harvey that he’d be starting this afternoon until it was too late for him to properly prepare.

Harvey started because Noah Syndergaard was scratched due to a “tired arm.” Syndergaard blew reporters off after the game, according to Mike Puma of the New York Post. Puma then added that Syndergaard ripped Mets P.R. guy Jay Horwitz for letting reporters approach him.

By the way, the Mets also lost outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to a hamstring injury. Not much else can go wrong in Queens.

Joey Votto isn’t on board with the latest fly ball trend among hitters

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If you haven’t heard, fly balls — not ground balls or line drives — are all the rage among hitters these days. Tigers outfielder J.D. Martinez summed it up perfectly last month when he said, “I’m not trying to hit a [freaking] line drive or a freaking ground ball.” The goal is to maximize damage. Last year, for example, fly balls became hits about 17 percent less often than ground balls (7.4% versus 24.6%), but hitters had a slugging percentage more than twice as much as on ground balls (.539 versus .267). This refocusing has helped hitters like Martinez as well as Ryan Zimmerman reinvigorate their careers.

Reds first baseman Joey Votto, who is as much a student of new age analytics as anyone in the game, doesn’t feel that this approach is necessarily a good one, as Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Votto said:

Where I get concerned is the guys that make this attempt and burn out too much of their time and don’t get a chance to be their best selves, and either don’t make it to the big leagues or don’t perform their best in the big leagues because they’re always attempting this new style of hitting. I see it with a lot of guys. Everyone tells the good stories, but there’s a lot of s—ty stories of guys who are wasting their time trying things.

Votto added that while the fly ball approach is working right now, pitchers will soon adapt and the fly ball approach won’t be so good anymore. And he’s right. Baseball has always been a game of adjustments. For example, as teams have gotten comfortable with shifting their infield, hitters like the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber have both dropped bunts down the third base line for easy hits. Knowing that hitters are aiming to hit fly balls now, pitchers may stay higher in the strike zone more often as one possible solution.

Votto is just trying to stay as well-rounded as possible. He says that he wants to become “unpitchable.” Votto wants to be like Angels outfielder Mike Trout, whom he describes as a guy “who can do absolutely anything he wants” and “at all times [has] all options.”

So far, Votto is having another productive season despite a relatively pedestrian batting average and on-base percentage. He’s hitting .238/.330/.563 with seven home runs and 16 RBI in 94 plate appearances. Coincidentally, he’s been hitting way more fly balls than usual as he’s currently carrying a 42.3 percent rate compared to his 33.1 career average, according to FanGraphs. His line drives are way down to 16.9 percent compared to his 25.4 percent career average.