VIERA, Fla. — There are durable starting pitchers, workhorses who relish churning through innings, at least six each time they take the mound, and take pride in steadying a rotation with a reliable presence every five days.
Since 2005, he has tossed 1,758 innings, second most in the major leagues behind left-hander CC Sabathia. His right arm has carried the load of 29,575 regular season pitches. Until last season, the three-time all-star tossed seven straight seasons of at least 200 innings. Most impressive of all, he has missed only three starts in his career.
Throwing a ball overhand at major league-level velocities over and over is an unnatural motion and has many ripple effects throughout the body. With his unique, halting delivery, highly self-critical and analytical approach, and meticulous preparation between starts, Haren has found a way to emerge as one of the most accomplished right-handers of the past decade.
“I take a lot of pride in pitching no matter what,” Haren said.
The Nationals aggressively pursued Haren as a free agent this offseason, while some teams backed off after a stint last season on the disabled list — the first of his career — and a resulting dip in his numbers. Comfortable with the state of his hip and back, Washington signed him to a one-year, $13 million deal, adding a wealth of experience to a talented but young starting rotation.
“You’re not going to find anybody that competes better than Dan Haren,” said Mike Scioscia, Haren’s manager for the previous two-plus seasons with the Los Angeles Angels.
A sense of duty
It means so much to Haren to be on the mound every five days that his 18-day stretch on the disabled list was scheduled during the all-star break. He watched the Angels play in New York on television from his home in Los Angeles and the unusual feeling ate him alive. Not taking his team deep into a game hurts him, too. He is keenly aware of a starting pitcher’s duty.
“The season is so long there’s only a handful of times you go out there and you feel absolutely great,” Haren said. “But a lot of times there’s something in between starts. You get sore in a certain area, whether it be your shoulder, elbow or something, you gotta go out there and just tough it out. I think more than anything, I’ve learned to pitch without my best stuff, being able to compete at a high level without having my ‘A’ stuff that day.”
In being ready every five days for so many years, Haren has grown particular about how he prepares himself. He takes only one month off after the season, and throws frequently during the winter. A former pitching coach said Haren would even throw two bullpen sessions between starts. Haren lifts weights often and mixes in cardio exercises.
This winter brought more changes to his regimen. After examining Haren, the Nationals also put the right-hander on a “very aggressive and regimented” stretching program with New York-based massage specialist Keith Pyne, according to General Manager Mike Rizzo. Haren also adopted a stricter diet. He avoids fast food, desserts and fried foods, and prefers fruit, berries and water. He feels guilty when he eats a heavy meal and limits himself to one diet soda a day.