Nationals encouraged after Dan Haren’s first start off the disabled list


Alex Brandon/AP

The day after Dan Haren returned from the disabled list, Nationals coaches and decision makers gave positive assessments of his start, in  which he allowed the Phillies two runs over five innings. While many executives and scouts across the league believe the Nationals could – and perhaps should – trade for a starter, the Nationals believe Haren showed enough to keep his place in the rotation.

“I thought he threw the ball well,” pitching coach Steve McCatty said. “The fastball seemed like it had a little more life on it. I didn’t like the fact that he walked a run in, but he was willing to make a pitch instead of just saying in a big situation, ‘I’m not going to walk you, here’s a fastball to hit.’ I liked his mind-set. He threw some real good splitters, I thought. I thought he did well.”

Haren allowed both runs in the first inning, including just the third bases-loaded walk of his career. Haren broached disaster in  the first inning, but McCatty and other Nationals personnel pointed out that Wilson Ramos’s high throw to third base on Ben Revere’s steal helped stoke the rally.

“There was also a chance he could have got out of there with no runs,” McCatty said. “When you’re struggling, that’s the way it always seems like it happens.”

The bases-loaded walk encouraged McCatty more than it irked him. During his career, Haren has been stingy with free passes and built his pitching philosophy on minimizing walks. McCatty has tried to convince him to be less aggressive at times, not giving in to a hitter and laying over a hittable strike.

“We’ve talked about it in certain situations,” McCatty said. “Even with Jordan [Zimmermann] sometimes, their unwillingness to walk a guy sometimes can come back to hurt you. Bases loaded, is that a good walk? No, you don’t want to walk a guy. But at least it wasn’t, ‘Here it is, I’m going to throw you a strike, and you take a big whack at it.’ So I like the fact that he tried to make a pitch. He missed in a spot that was not in the danger zone. His miss was off the plate. Yeah, I was happy to see he did that.”

During his time on the disabled list, Haren tinkered with a new grip on his splitter, holding his middle and index fingers wider apart in order to slow the pitch down. For much of the season, McCatty has encouraged Haren to create a wider discrepancy in his high-80s fastball and mid-80s splitter. Haren eventually felt more comfortable with his old grip, but early in his start he threw a few 82- and 81-mph splitters.

“We’ve had an ongoing discussion for a long time,” McCatty said. “I like to see the difference in speeds between his splitter and his fastball. When you’ve got five miles an hour, four miles an hour between the pitches, for me, it’s not enough. We had talked about that, talked about widening the grip on the split.”

The Nationals thought Haren’s cutter had more life than before he landed on the disabled list and received a cortisone shot. Last night, the Phillies swung and missed 15 times at Haren’s 95 pitches, which tied his season best. For context, Stephen Strasburg has only two starts all year in which he exceeded 14 whiffs.

“Did I see enough to say he’s going to go out and win the next 15 starts or whatever he has left?” McCatty said. “He could. Part of pitching is confidence. When you have confidence is when you get results. I think yesterday after the first inning should be a confidence booster for him. But I liked what I saw.”

Adam Kilgore covers national sports for the Washington Post. Previously he served as the Post's Washington Nationals beat writer from 2010 to 2014.

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James Wagner · July 9, 2013