The Nationals’ latest offensive shutdown, at the hands of the great Clayton Kershaw, obscured a development that may contain more long-term significance. Dan Haren continued his resurgence, filling up the strike zone, gathering more confidence and giving the Nationals, at the moment, a right-hander overqualified for the No. 4 starter spot.
In his past four starts, the first three of which he won, Haren has lowered his ERA from 7.36 to 4.76, allowing nine earned runs over 27 innings. He’s struck out 16 and walked only two, the kind whiff/walk ratio Haren has built his career on. Haren may have a narrow margin for error, as Harry Pavlidis showed last week, but right now, he’s hitting it. In his first four starts, opponents hit line drives on 43 percent of the pitches they put in play. In his last four, the rate has shrunk to 16 percent.
“It’s great, especially with the spring and the start he had, not being able to find it,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “He’s been around long enough, he’s not doubting himself. His last two or three starts have been awesome. He’s been the same old Dan.”
Haren, 32, brushed aside a minor, brief scare last night, when he rolled his left ankle in the fifth inning and felt a twinge up his leg and into his back. It worried him at first, but Haren didn’t even need to throw one warm-up pitch and then retired the final seven batters he faced, which capped a four-hit, two-run, seven-inning start.
“I knew who I was facing,” Haren said. “I knew I had to be really good. And I was, except for a few pitches.
“I feel really good. I know I had the little scare there in the fifth, but health-wise, I feel really good. When you’re dealing with your back, there’s a lot of good days and bad days. There’s been a lot more good days lately. Just bouncing back after starts has been easier. A lot of times, it’s not on the mound. But lately, it’s been really good. I have a good routine in the training room right now. I feel great out there. My velocity was a little up. I tried to settle down more toward the end of the game.”
Haren’s recent performance has endeared him, more every start, with his teammates. He works fast – “it was a little faster than Beckett yesterday,” he cracked last night – and aims to keep the players behind him alert.
“I love when he’s on the mound,” second baseman Danny Espinosa said. “You know what you’re going to get out of him. He’s pitching his ass off.”
“My whole philosophy is throwing strikes, not walking guys, keeping the defense in it and giving the team a chance to win every five days,” Haren said. “When I’m on the mound, I want the eight other guys with me, feeling like we’re going to win that day. Because I feel like we’re going to win. I feel like lately, I’ve been throwing the ball better. I think I’m starting to grow on them.”
That’s kind of an interesting concept for a pitcher to admit. Haren, signed this winter as a free agent, has been pretty open about his process of fitting in with his new environment. After he pitched past the fifth inning for the first this year, he said, “I finally feel like I’m part of the team.” He wants to let his teammates know he will pull his weight, and he has.
“You have to go out there and perform to earn the respect of your peers,” Haren said. “That’s the ultimate goal for a player, to get the other 24 guys on the roster to respect you and to want you out there when the game is on the line. I want to be out there. But I have to earn that trust from them. Pitching better does that.”