SEATTLE -- Prolonged losing streaks and lacking run support tend to sway the confidence of a starting pitcher -- even one as successful as the Angels' Dan Haren.
Haren, arguably baseball's most consistent starter since 2005, went into Thursday's 3-0 win over the Mariners with a 1-5 record, a 4.37 ERA, a four-game losing streak and a recently snapped stretch of three straight starts coinciding with shutouts of the Angels. His shaken confidence was evident in his uncharacteristic walk total, which was at 11 over his previous five outings.
"I think if you asked any pitcher," Haren said, "when you lose a few games, or you're worried about giving up a run or two, you tend to nibble around in the strike zone and you fall behind in counts and it's just a snowball effect."
But heading into the series opener against the Mariners, Haren -- who had less walks (33) than starts (34) last season -- made a concerted effort to stop nibbling at corners and go right after hitters, like he normally does.
"Whether you're a hitter or a pitcher, at some point, you have to lock it in and say, 'All right, I'm sick of this,'" said Haren's catcher, Bobby Wilson, who noticed a much better cutter. "It's definitely a demeanor; it's definitely an attitude."
Said Haren: "I said before this last start I was going to really attack the zone and pitch more aggressively."
And Haren did just that, en route to a dominant complete game that saw him scatter four hits, strike out 14 -- giving him 1,500 punchouts for his career -- walk none and get into only one three-ball count all night.
Prior to that, Haren said, "It just seemed like nothing was working out for me."
Then everything did.
"Baseball's a very humbling game," said Haren, whose ERA is now at 3.76 through 10 starts. "When you're on top, it'll bring you right down. In my case, I was at the bottom, and then I threw one of the best games I've ever thrown. Now, I'm right back on top. I'm sure I'm going to have a game or two the rest of the year where things aren't going to go good. But like I've said, the biggest thing for me is making all my starts. And if I do that, I think my numbers at the end of the year will be where I want them."
Conger misses callup opportunity with injury
SEATTLE -- The messages began rolling in for Hank Conger on May 11, the day Angels catcher Chris Iannetta underwent right wrist surgery and John Hester was called up to take his place on the roster.
"People were like, 'Where you at? Why aren't they calling you up?'" Conger recalled.
And that's when the Angels' prospect catcher would have to explain that he's on the Minor League disabled list, rehabbing a right elbow injury that dates back to the second series of the Triple-A season and has had him on the shelf for more than a month.
"Just bad luck; bad timing," Conger said in a phone conversation Friday. "But what I was talking to our trainers and physical therapists about is that I can't really rush it. If I try to rush it, and then I try to come back because I'm worried about trying to get called up, and then I come back and hurt it again, I'd really regret that."
Right now, though, it's the 24-year-old Conger who regrets not getting this chance to be called up to the Majors for a third straight season. And perhaps it's the Angels, who heading into Friday's game had received a collective .199 batting average from their catchers -- and only three hits since May 14 -- that are regretting it, too.
Conger may still be a project behind the plate, specifically with his throwing, but few have ever questioned the switch-hitter's ability in the batter's box. With the Angels, he could've perhaps formed a temporary platoon with the right-handed-hitting Bobby Wilson.
"I definitely want to try to get up there to try to help the team, but at the same time, I have to make sure I'm 100 percent," said Conger, who was hitting .357 in his first 13 games of 2012 and has compiled a .300/.362/.469 slash line in seven years in the Minors. "Especially with the elbow, that's a very sensitive thing where you have to really make sure you're 100 percent and not letting it linger towards the rest of the season."
Until Iannetta returns -- his estimated recovery time was initially 6-8 weeks -- the Angels will continue to go with internal options behind the plate, a person with knowledge of the situation said.
Conger suffered the injury while throwing to second base on a 3-2 pitch. The umpire called a ball on an attempted steal, and instead of throwing through, Conger pulled back and "heard a loud crackle" in his elbow, which eventually forced him out of game action past April 21.
For a little over a week now, Conger has been serving as a designated hitter at extended spring workouts in Tempe, Ariz.
Just recently, he began throwing to bases and says his arm "feels really good." By next week, Conger anticipates returning to games. And with Iannetta still a couple of weeks away from doing any strength exercises on his wrist, he may still have a chance to get called up before Iannetta is activated.
But Hester, a 28-year-old with big league experience, has done an admirable job getting up to speed with the Angels pitchers. And Conger has a lot to prove before he's an option to be promoted.
"I'm just going to do the best I can to get back on the field," Conger said. "That's all I can worry about."
Hawkins progressing, throws off mound
SEATTLE -- Veteran reliever LaTroy Hawkins, on the disabled list since May 7 with a broken right pinkie, threw off a mound for the first time Friday.
"It wasn't a full-gorilla 'pen, but he did enough to test some things," manager Mike Scioscia said. "You just have to make sure the arm slot's right, everything's good, and he still gets the extension. It's a step forward, for sure."
But there's still no timetable for his return. Scioscia said Hawkins is "obviously not quite game-ready" yet, with the club needing to see how he bounces back from the bullpen session to determine how many more he needs and whether he'll require a rehab assignment.
Even without the 39-year-old Hawkins -- owner of a 1.08 ERA in 10 games this year -- the Angels' relief corps has stepped up recently, posting a 0.89 ERA over the last 30 1/3 innings.
Reliever David Pauley, who was designated for assignment by the Angels on Thursday, cleared waivers Friday and was outrighted to Triple-A Salt Lake.
The Angels have no interest in center fielder Nate McLouth, who was designated for assignment by the Pirates on Friday, a source familiar with the club's thinking said.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia had no new updates on outfielder Torii Hunter, who's on the restricted list and expected back at some point next week.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.