Home runs are destroying what Dan Haren thought would be a promising season. He insists that his back problems aren't an issue anymore — just consistency.
Haren gave up five runs and seven hits in 3 1-3 inning Thursday night in the Angels' 7-0 loss to David Price and the Tampa Bay Rays. It was the second straight start in which Haren failed to get through the fourth.
"The best pitchers in the league can go through a rough stretch — even David Price, although this year he's really good," Haren said. "Last year was one of my best years, if not the best year of my career, but there were stretches where I felt like I couldn't get anybody out. This year I've dealt with some health issues, but I feel good right now. I'm just not getting the results."
Ben Zobrist and B.J. Upton hit solo homers against the three-time All-Star, who has surrendered 22 home runs in his 22 starts, two more than he gave up last season in 34 starts. Haren has given up at least one in a career-worst 10 consecutive starts and 15 total during a streak that began when Colorado hit four against him on June 9 at Coors Field — all solo shots in Haren's 11-5 victory. The last time he didn't allow a homer was June 3 against Texas.
"I'm leaving just too many mistakes up in the zone, and that's usually what homers come from," said Haren, who labored through 61 pitches. "I've been able to keep them mostly to solo home runs, and those usually won't kill you. But the big innings will. I'll have a couple of good starts, and then I'll disappear for a while. So I have to be more consistent and give the team a better chance to win."
Price pitched three-hit ball over seven innings for his AL-leading 16th victory. He struck out eight, walked two and lowered his ERA to 2.39, third in the AL behind the Angels' Jered Weaver and Detroit's Justin Verlander.
Price allowed only two runners to third base, striking out Chris Iannetta to end the fifth inning and fanning Vernon Wells to escape the seventh.
"My game plan doesn't change," Price said. "I was trying to attack them the same way I would if it was a 1-0 game or a 0-0 game, so my game plan doesn't change no matter how many runs we score or give up. With that offense they have over there, all it takes is one bad inning and they're right back in the game."
Burke Badenhop and Wade Davis each worked one inning in the Rays' third straight shutout against the Angels. The Halos have gone 32 consecutive innings without scoring against a staff that leads the AL in ERA, opponents' batting average and strikeouts.
Tampa Bay's starting pitchers are 11-2 with a 1.57 ERA over the team's last 18 games, and their bullpen has a 0.88 ERA over the last 26 games, compared to a 5.90 ERA by the Angels' bullpen during that same stretch.
"It's hard to argue against what our guys have done. Just look at what they're done since the All-Star break," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I'll take our group against anybody's group, and I've felt that way all along."
Price (16-4) is 7-0 with a 2.21 ERA over his last nine road starts, and 8-0 with a 1.72 ERA in his last 11 starts overall since a 9-1 home loss to the New York Mets on June 13.
Tampa Bay, which lost 1-0 at Seattle on Wednesday in Felix Hernandez's perfect game, had a streak of 34 consecutive batters retired before Zobrist's one-out homer in the second.
"You cannot permit yesterday to cause a hangover. I really don't believe in that stuff," Maddon said. "The thing I love about our group is that we don't let it both us, and we shouldn't. So when David pitches a game like this, he permits you to get it going offensively. I was really proud of our boys tonight after yesterday's difficult game."
Zobrist drove a 2-2 pitch into the first row of seats above the 18-foot wall in right-center, and Angels manager Mike Scioscia came out to argue that a fan interfered with the ball. But the ruling by second base umpire Al Porter stood after a video review.
Upton triggered a four-run fourth with a drive into the left-field bullpen, one of six hits Haren surrendered during the inning. Jeff Keppinger hit a two-run single and Ryan Roberts made it 5-0 with a sacrifice fly before Jose Molina chased Haren with a two-out single.
Evan Longoria increased the margin to 7-0 in the fifth with his fifth homer of the season and his first in 115 at-bats since coming off the disabled list on Aug. 7. The Rays are 8-2 since his return after going 41-44 while he was sidelined with a partially torn left hamstring.
"Just having him in the lineup is a big factor for us because that other pitcher know where he's at — whether he's on deck or in the hole. And that helps everybody else," Price said. "The guys that are hitting behind him are going to have more opportunities to drive in runs, and the guys hitting in front of him and going to get more good pitches to hit and get him up with runners on base."
NOTES: The last two times a pitcher threw a perfect game against the Rays, they responded with an 8-4 stretch following Mark Buehrle's in 2009, and an 8-2 stretch following Dallas Braden's in 2010. ... Haren's only other outing against the Rays this season was on July 27, when he beat them 3-1 at Angel Stadium. ... The Rays came in leading the majors leading the AL with a .233 opponents' batting average, after doing so in each of the previous two seasons. The last club to accomplish a three-peat in that department was Detroit (1983-85). ... Maddon, who was Scioscia's former bench coach in Anaheim, has 559 wins with the Rays during the regular season — 41 more than the franchise had in its eight seasons before he got the job in 2006.