Dan Haren’s final line from his second start, Thursday’s 7-4 win over the Chicago White Sox, might be confusing. He walked none, struck out five and allowed only three runs but gave up 10 hits. He fired 101 pitches, 67 for strikes, over five innings. It was, in many ways, an improvement from his first start in Cincinnati in which he looked utterly vulnerable in allowing four home runs and six runs.
“Last time I was almost aggressive to a fault,” Haren said. Thursday, “I still had no walks but had a few deeper counts. I just think that getting the ball down a little bit more is probably key for next game. I made a few less mistakes today but I still got work to do to get better. I have kind of shown flashes of how I can be but I didn’t really put it all together. I just haven’t really got it going, no 1-2-3 innings or anything like that. I haven’t really found that groove but we won.”
Manager Davey Johnson, overall, thought Haren threw the ball well. In his mind, it’s too early for him to have a full grasp on Haren’s potential and ability; that may take five or six starts. Haren’s velocity on Thursday sat between 86 and 91 mph, a continued sign that his early struggle isn’t because of his back or hip. “That was one thing that was missing last year,” Johnson said. “But it’s command. It’s all about command, making your pitches.”
When Haren missed, he left ball up in the strike zone. Luckily for him, the brutally windy conditions helped keep some balls in the stadium. The first two doubles he allowed were hard hit and could likely have been home runs in Cincinnati. “There were some balls hit that could have been homers for them and us,” he said. “Then there was a few bloopers that might have not fallen. The thing about the elements is that both teams have to play in them.”
Haren twice escaped potentially harrowing situations that would have put the improvements in his second start in a different light. With the bases loaded in the third inning after grazing Paul Konerko, he struck out Alexei Ramirez on three pitches, including back-to-back splitters, and allowed no runs. Haren reasoned he wouldn’t rely on his splitter until later in the season, in part, because it didn’t move as well as he had hoped in spring. But on Thursday, it was an effective out pitch, one he could turn to if he needed to induce a lineout or groundout or strike out a batter.
He leaned heavily on the splitter again an inning later when he allowed four singles and two runs to tie the score at 3, which prompted a mound visit from pitching coach Steve McCatty. All three outs in fourth inning were induced by the biting splitter, including the inning-ending popout by Adam Dunn. Per our Pitchf/X data, Haren threw 12 splitters in his 101-pitch game. It, however, felt like more. In the past five years since he incorporated his cutter, Haren has leaned heavily, and succeeded, with it.
Thursday “was the first time in a long time, even dating back to spring, where I felt confident with [the splitter] to throw it 0-2, 1-2,” he said. “I’ve just been hanging it. [Catcher Wilson] Ramos had told me when we in the dugout, I think it was the second or third inning, he told me he liked the split today. So he was going with it. Because I threw more splits, less cutters today, more fastball-splits. Which usually I’m like 50, 60 percent cutter. Today I was probably 20 or 30 percent.”
Haren, a career .223 hitter, also showed off his reputation for being a capable hitter. He hit an opposite-field double in the fourth, ambling to second base with the speed of a kid picked last at the playground. Afterward, Haren joked: “I’m not fast.”
“I saw where the ball went so it’s a good thing I didn’t take my time running into second base,” he said, with a chuckle. “You guys saw my speed which I apologized to [Jayson] Werth I didn’t score on his single. But I probably wouldn’t have scored on a double anyways.”