Dan Haren: ‘Keep this group together’

brushback_harperAfter Sunday’s 4-2 loss to the Marlins in the first game of the doubleheader, a defeat that may have essentially put last-gasp hopes for the playoffs out of reach, Dan Haren had something to get off his chest. Asked about his impressions of Washington as a growing baseball city, the veteran right-handed starter and impending free agent steered the conversation in a different direction.

Haren, instead, advocated that the Nationals roster stay nearly intact next season. The Nationals’ 2013 season may soon end in the disappointment of unfulfilled expectations, but the team’ strong finish is encouraging and the team’s core nucleus have bright futures. He also cast a vote of confidence in bench coach Randy Knorr as a potential successor to Davey Johnson. And, Haren also blamed himself for part of the Nationals’ early struggles.

Haren summed up the season and looked to the future all in one breath, and he drew on his past experience with the Angels as proof that a talented team that struggles should be given another chance.

“This area has a lot to look forward to,” he said. “I think last year, in LA, we won I think 89-90 games and they kind of blew up the team. I think they struggled most of the year and have gotten on track lately here. I think that was the wrong thing to do. I know there’ll be some subtle changes [here next year], me probably being one of them. But I think the most important thing is to keep this group together. This could be a building block.

“Last year they had a great year. This year, we showed a lot of fight here these last few months and I think as close as things can stay to the guys in this room the better. That’s top down, manager-wise. I think Randy can step in and do a real good job. I think the guys overall seem to really like him. That just kind of goes into the organization not really needing to do too much. We got off to a slow start but I think we learned a lot of things.”

Haren, 33, a well-liked teammate, is brutally honest and a keen observer. He understands the Nationals’ position and has a hunch about how he fits in it. He was signed to a one-year $13-million deal this offseason and he suffered the worst season of his career. He struggled mightily in the first half and then pitched strong after returning from the disabled list.

“We had to win pretty much every game going forward which is really just a matter of the hole that we dug ourselves,” he said. “We didn’t play good baseball. I don’t want to speak for the team. I know the team struggled but I obviously struggled at the beginning of the year, first couple months, I was a part of the reason we were down so many games. Turned it around for the most part after coming back from the DL, with the exception of one or two starts, but still a big reason why we were down so many games is that I wasn’t able to maintain that consistency that the front three guys were throwing the ball so well at the beginning of the year.”

With one more start potentially remaining, Haren has a 4.87 ERA and a 9-14 record. When Haren starts, the Nationals are 10-19, but the team is 74-53 when anyone takes the mound. He understands his role in the Nationals’ season of disappointment. Although he has enjoyed Washington, his time with the Nationals and his teammates, Haren has seen the young crop of Nationals starters who could fill the void in the rotation next year.

Given his performance this season and age, he likely commands far less than his deal this season, and the Nationals could turn elsewhere. Haren hinted that his future may lie elsewhere, but he still believes the Nationals’ future is bright.

FROM THE POST

The Nationals split the doubleheader with the Marlins, writes Adam Kilgore.

In an unusual home finale, there is a sense of finality, writes Barry Svrluga.

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

Stephen Strasburg returns to the mound, shakes off rust

Jhonatan Solano starts against brother Donovan in the majors for first time

Ryan Zimmerman leads the majors in home runs in September

With Nationals loss, the Braves clinch the NL East

Davey Johnson honored by Nationals before Sunday’s game

After long delay, the Nationals face a pivotal doubleheader

Explaining the Nationals-Marlins postponement

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