After he made his spring training debut Wednesday afternoon, Dan Haren never bothered to check the velocity of his fastball. On Thursday, a reporter informed him one scout’s radar gun had clocked the heater between 89 and 91 miles per hour. Haren’s eyebrows shot up and a smile spread on his face.
“Really!?” Haren said. “I don’t think I hit 90 the last two months of the season.”
Haren’s reaction underscored how encouraging and surprising his fastball velocity was. Last year, Haren’s fastball averaged 88.5 miles per hour last season, the slowest rate of his career. The diminished velocity, he said earlier this spring, troubled him so much he started overthrowing. The overthrowing led to injuries, and he landed on the disabled list for the first time of his career. Before he put the velocity issue aside started pitching like himself – 90 mph fastball or not – Haren’s ERA to rose to 4.90.
Now, Haren and the Nationals believe he can pitch at his previous level even if his fastball barely scrapes 90 mph. But it wouldn’t hurt if he sits at 90 and touches 93 – which he did Wednesday, even if he couldn’t believe. “I haven’t thrown 93 since 2007,” he said. Haren’s fastball sitting 89-91 in February is not an insignificant development.
“For me, if I was 89-91, that would be great for me,” Haren said. “I was assuming I’d be more in the 88-89 range. There’s times last year where I was reaching for it, and it just wasn’t there. If I could pitch a little bit closer to the 90, as opposed to the 88, that would make things a little bit easier for me. I could pitch at 87, 88 no problem, and get guys out and strike guys out. But [throwing 90], I could miss a little bit. That’s what velocity does – it gives you a higher margin for error.”
It may also give Haren more capability to strike out hitters. Last season, Haren struck out a career-low 7.2 hitters per nine innings, down from his career-best 8.8 in 2009. Haren thought a harder fastball wouldn’t necessarily change the way he attacks hitters, but it made lead to more whiffs.
“What [better velocity] changes is maybe putting guys away,” Haren said. “It’s a little easier to put guys away with fastballs. Velocity helps keep them honest with other pitches. Like people have said a million times, it’s more about location than velocity. But it does give you a little more margin for error.”
Haren seemed at a loss to explain the bump in velocity. His best guess was a change to offseason workout, spurred by the hip trouble that led to his DL stint and, this offseason, scared some teams away.
“I don’t know,” Haren said. “It’s definitely encouraging, though. I did a lot of different things this offseason, just mobility-wise with my body – stretching, flexibility, core work. So maybe it’s going to pay off a little bit in terms of velocity. I don’t want to get into trying to throw hard. If it’s there, that’s definitely a good thing.”
General Manager Mike Rizzo alluded early this spring to improved health in Haren’s hip potentially helping his fastball. “We’ve done a lot of things with his hip — stretch, different workouts with less weight to bear, masseuse twice a week,” Rizzo told Boz. “He has more range of motion. If that improves, the fastball may improve. But it doesn’t have to.”
For one start anyway, it did. And when he found out, it left Haren in an awfully good mood.
“That’s the best news I’ve heard all day,” he said.
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FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
The Nationals have another night game, in Lake Buena Vista against the Braves. Jordan Zimmermann goes for the second time this spring, facing Julio Teheran. Danny Espinosa will start at shortstop. Davey Johnson wants to give him time there this spring, because unlike last season he plans to move Espinosa to short when Ian Desmond gets a routine day off. Here’s the Nationals’ scheduled lineup.
1. Danny Espinosa, SS
2. Steve Lombardozzi, 2B
3. Bryce Harper, CF
4. Tyler Moore, DH
5. Chad Tracy, 3B
6. Chris Marrero, 1B
7. Corey Brown, LF
8. Sandy Leon, C
9. Eury Perez, RF
– Jordan Zimmerman, SP
DAYS UNTIL OPENING DAY