Dan Haren’s continued second-half turnaround is nothing short of inspirational. Through the first three months of the season, he was one of the worst pitchers in baseball with a 6.15 ERA. Since July 1, and including a stint on the disabled list mostly to clear his mind, the 32-year-old has a 2.16 ERA.
“It’s been unbelievable,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “He’s been really pitching good, been a mainstay.” Added Johnson later: “He’s shown he’s a quality pitcher. I think the adjustment to the new league and feeling better with his arm, having some difficulty with it, but he’s bounced back and pitched great.”
Haren’s improvement isn’t a fluke across a handful of innings. He has carried the success through eight starts, including another strong one on Tuesday night against the Cubs. He allowed only one run over six innings even though he was still a little tired from pitching an inning of relief only three days before. In his past eight starts, Harenhas allowed two runs or less in seven of them. He is averaging six innings per start. Through the first 15 starts of the season, he averaged about 5 1/3 innings per start. After carrying a record 4-9 through the end of June, Haren has improved to 8-11, his wins the second highest total on the team behind Jordan Zimmermann.
And, more than anything, Haren has given the Nationals a better chance to win. The Nationals were 4-11 in games started by Haren to start the season. Since July 1, the Nationals are 5-4, a record that should be better if not for the Nationals’ criminally low run support. He is striking out even more batters than before (9 K/9 in his surge versus 7.35 K/9 before). He is keeping the ball low, throwing more two-seamers and less cutters, and he is taking more off of his splitter, perhaps his best pitch. he is also enjoying some of the better luck with balls put in play that eluded him before. He has allowed only four homers in the second half, compared to 19 before it.
“My stuff was just average [on Tuesday],” Haren said. “In the beginning of the year, I was throwing harder and my stuff was nasty, but I was just getting burned by the homers. That one mistake would just kill me. I’ve been able to kind of stay away from that.”
On a team with many inconsistencies, Haren has become of a sure thing. He has been pleased with his string of strong starts. His teammates have been equally as thrilled for Haren, a well-regarded teammate. They watched the struggles weighed heavily on the 11-year veteran, who was on a new team and his wife and kids back home in California. They watched him stand at his locker after each start and account for his clunkers to reporters. Now, his teammates are thrilled.
“It’s exciting,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “It’s fun. He’s pitching the way he wants to. It’s refreshing. For him, it’s probably more refreshing. But for us, it keep us in the game a little more. He’s been just lights out. It’s been fun to watch. We all knew how heavy it was weighing on him before.”
Haren said he hasn’t thought much about next season. He came to Washington on a one-year, $13-million deal following concerns about his back and hip coming off the worst season of his career. His strong second half has certainly been proof that Haren still has plenty left in his career after 11 seasons of a lot of innings. He has enjoyed his time in Washington, but the Nationals committed only one year to Haren this winter, in part, because of the young starting pitching moving up through the minor league system.
With his second-half success, Johnson believes Haren would be a big addition for a contending team down the stretch or even next season. “For a pennant run, he’s a big-game pitcher,” Johnson said. “And he’s showing it every time he goes out now.” But Haren hasn’t thought much of the future beyond his next start.
“I’ve been so focused on this year, just trying to turn it around,” he said. “As good as I’ve pitched the last month or so, I still have an ERA in the mid-4.00s, the high-4.00s. So that kind of tells you how bad I was. To think about next year, I just really haven’t thought about it. I really want to keep this rolling. I think I have about seven more starts left. I just want to make the most of those.”
FROM THE POST
It wasn’t pretty because of the myriad of stranded base runners, but the Nationals beat the Cubs, 4-2, with two big hits and Dan Haren’s pitching.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 3, Indianapolis 2: Caleb Clay allowed two runs, only one earned, over five innings. Mark Lowe, Cole Kimball, Ryan Mattheus and Michael Crotta each tossed scoreless innings. Zach Walters hit his 29th home run. Eury Perez, Danny Espinosa and Walters each had two hits.
Harrisburg 3, Richmond 2 (7): Robbie Ray allowed two runs on five hits over five innings. Tyler Herron and Aaron Barrett each tossed a scoreless inning. Rick Hague hit the decisive home run. Billy Burns went 2 for 4.
Harrisburg 5, Richmond 1 (7): Nate Karns tossed a seven-inning complete game, allowing one hit on six hits and eight strikeouts. Billy Burns went 2 for 3 with two runs. Brian Goodwin hit his 10th homer and finished 2 for 4. Jerad Head went 2 for 3.
Potomac 6, Wilmington 2: Matt Purke allowed two runs, one earned, on five hits over six innings. Greg Holt and Rob Wort combined for three scoreless relief innings. Caleb Ramsey went 2 for 4. Michael Taylor and Adrian Nieto each drove in a run.
Lakewood 3, Hagerstown 2: Kylin Turnbull allowed two runs on six hits over six innings and struck out four. Derek Self allowed one run. Bryan Harper notched two outs. Mike McQuillan went 3 for 3. Estarlin Martinez and Stephen Perez each drove in a run.
Batavia 2, Auburn 1: On rehab, Blake Treinen tossed four scoreless Robert Orlan took the loss although he allowed two unearned runs. Jean Carlos Valdez went 2 for 3. Matt Foat went 2 for 4.
The GCL Nationals are 44-8.