A reporter asked Haren if it would be smart insurance for the Nats to sign free agent Kyle Lohse. That’s the wrong question to the wrong guy.
“And I go to the bullpen?” Haren said sharply. “I’m not ready to be a long reliever. Lets give it five years.” So, there it is, the real Haren plan.
“I feel great,” added Haren. “This is a big year for me.”
Last year, Jackson blended with the Nats’ staff, but Haren will bring special qualities. “Don’t give the hitter too much credit. Be confident in yourself. Make ’em earn their way on,” Haren said Monday. “I don’t adjust to hitters much. I concentrate on my game. If they hit the first pitch, okay. If I get behind, I’ll get back in the count.
“With the stuff the other guys on this staff have, they should have no fear, no matter the count. Let the pitcher be the one who’s aggressive.”
Since Haren’s locker is between Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, and because he is a master of getting high strikeout counts (223 one season) by “setting up hitters” and “expanding the zone” — something the young Nats haven’t mastered, it’s assumed that Haren may be a coach in disguise.
“I’m a guy they can turn to when they aren’t going great. But I’m not ‘mentoring’ Stephen Strasburg. It looks like he’s got it down pretty good.”
Nevertheless, Haren is a model total pitcher. In two-plus NL years in Arizona, he hit .265 with a .667 OPS — near the MLB norm for batters and better than ex-Nat Jesus Flores’s career mark (.663). He’s like a free DH. And he led his league in fielding three times with perfect 1.000 seasons.
His defiant mound presence may define him most. “If he gives up a 500-foot foul ball,” said Suzuki, “you know you’re going to see that same pitch pretty soon. ‘Lets see you do it again.’”
Few athletes have as clear a sense of where they stand in their career and what they have to do to get back on top. Can Haren do it? Different question. But this is a pitcher who even knows that the ball flies further at 8 p.m. in Anaheim than it does at 7 p.m.
“As a pitcher ages, his velocity goes down a little. You try not to look at the radar gun. Everybody is so obsessed with it. I tried to get [the velocity] back. I didn’t trust myself and I’d overthrow. . . . That led to injuries,” Haren said. “That was just a struggle. I was trying to get healthy all year.
“Then I had mechanical problems when I came back. I’d never been on the DL before. I was just a mess. Then, at the end of the year, I just pitched like myself and didn’t pay any attention to velocity. Everything was fine.”
In his last eight starts, with an 88-mph fastball, Haren had a 2.81 ERA with 41 strikeouts and only five walks in 48 innings. That’s whom the Nats hope they signed. Or even someone within sight of that Haren.
The patient Haren has gone over every angle of his career tipping point. “I’ve never had a year like that before. So this is a big season for me,” he said. Then, as he walked away, Haren turned back [remember this is a star] and said matter-of-factly, “I’ll bounce back this year.”
Some do. Some don’t. But that could be a mighty high bounce.
For previous columns by Thomas Boswell, go to washingtonpost.com/boswell.