Before Friday night, Haren had a career 0-4 record and 5.54 ERA in seven starts against the Phillies. The 32-year-old — with an admirable 1,995 2/3 career innings on his right arm — had noticed earlier this season that the Phillies were the only team he had not defeated in his career. He faced them three times earlier before he encountered them again on Friday. He threw 97 pitches and walked none for his seventh win of the season in the 9-2 victory.
“It’s something to be proud of it,” said Haren, an 11-year veteran who has also pitched for the Cardinals, Angels, Diamondbacks and Athletics. “It kind of just shows longevity. I’ve played for just the right amount of time in both leagues, too. So that plays into it. I’ve been around for a while and they’re the one team I could never beat so I’m sure I’ll face them here a couple more times this year and hopefully I can continue.”
Haren, as always, has been deeply reflective about his recent improvements and first-half struggles. Before he landed on the disabled list, he had a 6.15 ERA. In six starts since then, he has a 2.43 ERA and has allowed only two homers in 37 innings. While Haren has maintained he had no physical problems, he did receive a cortisone shot for some right shoulder inflammation.
“I think he did have a little bit of arm problems in the first half,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “But he’s a tough cookie and pitched through it. But even the catcher says [the] ball’s coming out real good, whereas in the first half the cutter was just barely moving. He’s just a lot sharper. His rhythm’s a lot better, too.”
Haren’s splitter has been better, notably a few ticks slower on the radar gun, which helps create a larger gap with his fastball. He has thrown fewer cutters, which have also been crisper, and relied more on splitters and fastballs. He has done a better job of being less aggressive in certain counts. He feels he has also benefited from some better luck. But, overall, Haren has reminded himself before a pitch to keep the ball down.
“I would be down during the game and then, I don’t know, the game would speed up a little bit for me and I would lose focus and then make a mistake up in the zone in a critical spot and I’d get burnt by it,” he said. “I really just tried to remind myself when we’ve got a runner on or two runners on, two outs, just trying to miss down in the zone, rather than before when I was just attacking them and attacking them. I’ve just been a little bit more concerned with location, rather than just concerned with throwing strikes.”
When he landed on the disabled list, Haren was statistically one of the worst pitchers in baseball. It was a humbling experience for the three-time all-star and one of the most accomplished right-handers of the past decade.
“Physically I was fine,” he said. “Mentally I was pretty messed up. But baseball is an incredibly humbling game. When you’re up, it’ll just knock you right down. I couldn’t have really gotten much lower than I did when I was on the DL. I mean, I was a bad start or two away from getting released probably. That’s just the truth of it I think. I definitely feel way better the way I’m pitching now, and this is more me.”
Teammates have been overjoyed for Haren.
“Nobody wanted to do better than he did and we’ve talked,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “And it was kind of eating him up inside and he didn’t come over here to pitch like he pitched for the first half.” Added first baseman Adam LaRoche: “For him to be able to turn it around with a new club is awesome.”
For over a month, Haren has finally made the consistent contribution he hoped he could all along for the Nationals, the team he chose this winter because he felt he had a better chance of winning. He has won two straight starts for only the second time this season. And, after finally beating the Phillies, he could add one more distinction to his career.
“And I’ve beaten the Expos, too,” Haren added, after he finished talking to reporters following Friday’s game.