Note: We spoke with several Nationals players and prospects at NatsFest more than a week ago and will continue to have updates from them throughout the week. Below, we catch up with Dan Haren.
The Nationals signed Dan Haren, a 10-year veteran who is one of the most accomplished right-handers in the game over the past decade, to fill the vacant spot in the rotation. They inked him to a one-year deal, possible only because of concerns over his health. The Nationals evaluated him, felt comfortable with his back and hip issues and signed him for $13 million. And Haren, after landing on the disabled list for the first time in his career last year with the Angels, insists he expects no issues this season.
“I feel great,” Haren said at NatsFest on Jan. 26. “I threw a bullpen actually [on Jan. 25] before I flew out. I felt good, I feel strong. Just trying to put it in neutral a little bit. I’ve thrown three or four bullpens. I don’t want to get ready too early, especially this year with spring starting a little earlier, games starting a little earlier.”
Haren, 32, went on the disabled list at the all-star break last year to rest back tightness, only because the Angels’ medical officials convinced him. When he returned, his mechanics were out of whack and it took him until August to straighten it out. Over his final 13 outings, Haren threw eight quality starts.
Haren also dealt with hip issues, which he admitted have lingered since his rookie season. He learned to manage it, and has done even more to help alleviate it, such as losing weight, improving flexibility and strengthening his core. When he signed with the Nationals in early December, Haren admitted, “ I think I have a lot to prove this year”
“I’m going to be 100 percent go from the get-go of spring physically, I feel really good,” he said recently. “I focused a little more on getting in better shape. I’ve always been in good shape but I just wanted to really hit on some things and make sure I’m in the best possible shape I can be in.”
Offseason fan events, held by teams to generate interest for the upcoming season, are optional, especially veterans like Haren. But he is new to Washington, its fans and the majority of his teammates. So he agreed to come to NatsFest, in his mind, to serve as a learning experience.
The only Nationals players Haren is already familiar with are Chad Tracy and Adam LaRoche, teammates on the Arizona Diamondbacks from 2008 to 2009 and 2010, respectively. Haren crossed paths with Kurt Suzuki in his final season in Oakland in 2007, and has faced Denard Span while both were in the American League. Haren got to meet most of this teammates at NatsFest and was excited to head to Viera soon to join the rest of them, test out his body and prove himself.
“When I’m throwing my bullpens now there’s nothing really in the back of my mind or anything [holding me back],” he said recently. “I’m just going out there and treating it like any other year. Maybe get into it a little slower but there’ll be no restrictions.”