The first week of the season is history, and so now the Nationals will begin the grind of the season – 26 games in the next 27 days after six in the past eight – looking up in the standings for the first time since May 21, in third behind the 6-1 Braves and 5-2 Mets.
The Nationals’ place in the standings, of course, means next to nothing on April 9. But what happened in the first week that portends at least some meaning for the next 157 games? Here’s a few.
1 .Dan Haren is probably still a really good pitcher. But he might not be. Allowing four homers in his first start of the year can be dismissed an aberration caused by some combination of a small park, a hellacious lineup and nine days of rest.
Last year, though, Haren allowed a career-high 1.4 homers per nine innings, one of the worst rates in the majors. In his career, Haren has been a dominant pitcher because he strikes out a ton of hitters and walks very few – his 4.06 strikeout-to-walk ration entering this season ranked seventh all-time.
On Friday, the nine swing-and-misses Haren induced offered hope, and his fastball velocity of mostly 90 and 91 mph represented an improvement over 2012. But the Reds took a lot of healthy swings and his cutter and splitter lacked crisp movement. It was not the kind of stuff you can pitch with in the strike zone and live to tell about it.
Again, that may be a one-start issue, and in a few days Haren will start closing in on the excellence he exhibited his entire career, before injury issues derailed him last season. Or it could mean Haren will have to make adjustments on the fly to a style that’s not as effective for him as it once was. I would bet on Haren until the evidence suggests otherwise, not the other way around.
2. Denard Span can get on base outside of Target Field, and he changes the Nationals outfield. Last year with the Twins, Span produced one statistical oddity – he punched up a .404 on-base percentage at home but only .278 on the road. The early signs point to those splits being fluky.
Span has drawn seven walks in six games and reached base in 12 of 27 plate appearances. He has been what the Nationals wanted at the top of their lineup. He’s seen 4.22 pitches per plate appearance, most on the team. And in the outfield, as Boz covered the other day, he allows Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper more freedom to play the hitter’s tendencies rather than covering for a slower-than-average left fielder. If Span keeps playing like he has, the Nationals will be perfectly happy.
3. Ross Detwiler is still a lefty killer. In his six innings without allowing an earned run, Detwiler had nine plate appearances against left-handed batters, facing Shin-Soo Choo, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce three times each. He allowed two hits, both singles, and hit two batters, although both HBPs seemed questionable.
Point is, the Reds’ powerful trio of lefties did almost no damage against Detwiler. Last season, left-handed batters hit .170 against him. That is a useful trait in a division that includes Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward and Ike Davis. File this away, too, if the Nationals meet the Reds in October.
4. One left-hander in the bullpen isn’t a big deal. But right-handed relievers not pitching well is. Even against the lefty-heavy Reds, there was no situation where Davey Johnson was blatantly caught wishing he had a left-handed option for a batter or two. The bullpen faltered, to be sure, especially in the 7-6 victory on Saturday. Drew Storen and closer Rafael Soriano each yielded two runs, but the problem wasn’t the lack of a lefty. Storen and Soriano just needed to execute better (and, Storen’s case, Ian Desmond needed to field that groundball).
The Nationals’ bullpen has a collective 5.19 ERA. Don’t blame Tyler Clippard. He has not allowed a hit in three innings, striking out four with a walk. He has been dominant.
FROM THE POST
James Wagner takes stock of life without Michael Morse for the Nationals.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 8, Lehigh Valley 1: Jeff Kobernus went 3 for 5 with a double and a triple and his hitting .579 for the season. He played left field. Wil Rhymes went 2 for 4 with a walk. Zach Walters went 1 for 4 with a home run. Micah Owings went 2 for 5. Daniel Rosenbaum allowed no runs on four hits and two walks, striking out two.
New Britain 9, Harrisburg 2: Brian Goodwin went 2 for 5 with a triple. Anthony Rendon went 0 for 3 with two walks. Nathan Karns allowed seven runs in 3 2/3 innings on seven hits and three walks, striking out three.
Salem 7, Potomac 6: Billy Burns went 2 for 4 with a double and is hitting .500 on the season. Caleb Ramsey went 1 for 3 with a home run. Kylin Turnbull allowed six earned runs in 4 1/3 innings on nine hits and a walk, striking out one.
Hagerstown 7, Lakewood 6: J.R. Higley went 2 for 5 with a triple. Stephen Perez went 2 for 3 with a double and two walks. Craig Manuel went 2 for 4 with a walk. Pedro Encarnacion allowed one run in five innings on three hits and two walks, striking out five.