ANAHEIM -- It looked like Dan Haren had taken major strides after initially coming off his first ever stint on the disabled list, posting a 2.00 ERA over a three-start stretch that made you think he was finally rounding back to form.
Now, he's struggling again. Big time.
On Thursday night, against a team that fell victim to Felix Hernandez's perfect game on Wednesday afternoon, Haren gave up five earned runs and failed to get through the fourth inning for the second straight start, quickly sinking the Angels in an eventual 7-0 defeat against the Rays and David Price.
Haren, arguably baseball's most consistent starting pitcher from 2005-11, is now 8-10 with a 4.90 ERA on the year. Once again, he faces questions about his consistency, his velocity, his back and his staying power.
The 31-year-old right-hander only knows one thing, though.
"I have to be better," he said. "It's kind of been a broken record for me. I've just been too inconsistent this season. I'll have a couple good starts, and then I'll disappear for a while. I have to be more consistent. I have to give the team a better chance to win."
The Angels -- 5-10 in August and 14-19 in the second half -- can use any chance they can get these days.
Haren's struggles kept them from winning three straight for the first time since late June, dropped them once again to seven back of the Rangers in the American League West and caused them to lose ground to Tampa Bay, which now holds a 2 1/2-game advantage for the second AL Wild Card spot.
The Angels have been shut out in three straight games against the Rays, beginning with the last two of a three-game set in late July, and haven't scored a run in each of their past 32 innings against them.
But the main concern is Haren, who compiled more innings than anyone in baseball over the previous seven seasons, but has lost a couple ticks off his fastball, hardly ever throws his splitter, seems to have little life on his cutter and previously dealt with lower back stiffness.
Haren continues to say his back is no longer an issue.
"Nah, I'm fine," he said. "I've actually felt better the last two times than I did the first three starts coming off the DL."
Haren also said his stuff felt better in these last two outings than they did in the three before; he was just "limiting damage" more effectively.
Whatever the reason for his struggles, the Angels can't afford to wait much longer. Not with their postseason hopes continuing to fade. They have an off-day on Monday, which gives them the option to either push Haren back or skip him -- using Jerome Williams, Garrett Richards or someone else from the Minors to temporarily plug the gap.
"We look at this thing every day, and there are some options you would consider, and we're going to continue to look at this over the next couple of days to see where we go," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "But Dan, pitching even just to what you would consider an average year, is very important for us. He doesn't have to go out there and be Superman. He needs to pitch to just what we would expect him to do on a start-by-start basis, and we're having a little inconsistency with that."
An understatement, to say the least.
The Rays and Mariners rank 12th and 14th, respectively, in the AL in runs scored. But those two clubs have combined to pound Haren for 12 runs (10 earned) on 12 hits in seven innings over his past two outings.
Ben Zobrist's second-inning solo homer marked a career-high 10th straight start in which Haren has served one up and gave him 21 in his first 126 1/3 innings of the season (he gave up one fewer in 112 more innings last year).
B.J. Upton led off the fourth with another homer, then Jeff Keppinger hit a two-run single and Ryan Roberts drove in a run with a sac fly to deep center field. After Jose Molina notched the Rays' sixth hit of the frame, Scioscia replaced Haren with Williams, ending his night after only 61 pitches.
The Angels had received better production out of their mostly underachieving rotation recently, with Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Zack Greinke and Ervin Santana combining to post a 3.25 ERA over the past four games.
But Haren couldn't keep it going. And he can't quite figure out why.
"This has been one of the most frustrating stretches for me," he said. "This year, I feel terrible the way it's gone, for the team."
With the early deficit, and Price on the mound, the Angels had little hope. The Rays ace left-hander hurled seven scoreless innings, scattering just three hits, walking two and striking out eight to put him at 16-4 with a 2.39 ERA on the year.
Price sports a 1.70 ERA over his last 11 starts, is riding a franchise-record eight-game winning streak and has given up one earned run in his 23 innings against the Angels.
"Feels like I've thrown the ball pretty well over the last however many starts it's been," Price said. "I feel good about what I'm doing."
Haren would like to borrow some of that.
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.