Newcomer Dan Haren threw the ball so well in live batting practice today that it actually alarmed Manager Davey Johnson. After Haren finished dealing sinkers and cutters, mostly over the right half of the plate, Johnson stopped him to chat. “Take it easy,” Johnson told Haren. “You don’t have to impress anybody.”
Haren assured Johnson he was taking it easy. Later, though, Haren admitted that throwing in front of Johnson, Mike Rizzo and even Mark Lerner had amped him up. Haren is also eager to educate his new catchers on how he pitches.
“Me and [Wilson] Ramos talked today for the first time about how I like to attack hitters, my philosophies on pitching, things I like to throw in certain counts, and he seemed really receptive,” Haren said. “It was definitely nice throwing to a big target back there.”
This spring, he is working especially hard on commanding the right side of the plate, an adjustment he made last year that helped him take off at the end of the season.
“A lot of my game is on the left side of the plate with cutters and fastballs,” Haren said. “But toward the end of last season in September, I started doing some different things on the right side of the plate with my cutter and fastball and working them in together out there, and started having a lot of success. But it’s still a work in progress.
“Command is my game. I’m not gonna give away too many free passes. I’m very aggressive. So a lot of it is where I’m going to start pitches, and attacking that side of the plate a little more just to keep people honest.”
>>> It took only a few pitches for Jordan Zimmermann to form his impression of power-hitting prospect Matt Skole: “He’s a large animal,” Zimmermann said. “He’s a big kid. From what I’ve been hearing, he’s got some incredible pop.”
Zimmermann found out about Skole’s pop today. He faced Skole in live batting practice, and Skole hammered one of his fastballs over the corner over the right field fence. “I won’t be throwing him anything inside anymore,” Zimmermann said.
Skole, 23, was magnanimous about the bomb. “If he didn’t tell me what was coming,” Skole said, “I probably wouldn’t have touched the ball.”
It’s still really early in the spring, of course, but Skole has made an impression around camp with his power during batting practice. The third baseman slugged .559 and hit 27 homers in the minors last year.
Skole reached Class A Potomac and has no shot to break with the Nationals. But he won their minor league player of the year award in 2012, and he’s laying the groundwork to build off his breakout season.
“It’s a great experience,” Skole said. “I’m just happy to be here. Those guys are getting their work. They’re working on certain things. I’m just in there getting experience and taking swings. It’s fun. It’s eye opening. I’m just excited to be here.”
>>> Johnson continues to be encouraged with the progress of Wilson Ramos, who is coming back from surgery to repair torn ligaments in his right knee. Johnson said he’s handling the same share of catching live batting practice as the rest of the catchers. He will serve as the designated hitter
Saturday in the Nationals’ Grapefruit League opener Sunday.
>>> Henry Rodriguez will throw his first bullpen session either Sunday or Monday, Johnson said. Rafael Soriano threw another bullpen session today. He remains a few days behind the rest of the Nationals’ staff because of the visa issue that delayed him, but Johnson is content to let him prepare at his own pace.
>>> Micah Owings, the first baseman who is converting from pitcher, has not been throwing or taking full batting practice. The Nationals injected dye into his shoulder for an MRI exam, which has held him back for a few days. He is expected to be fine to return to full participation.