Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson isn't worried about Dan Haren after one start. Not even if that outing saw the 32-year-old right-hander, who signed a 1-year/$13M dollar deal this winter, give up four home runs in four innings on the mound in which the Cincinnati Reds had nine hits total and scored six earned runs. In an interview with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s The Sports Junkies on Wednesday , the Nats' 70-year-old skipper jokingly called one of the hosts who wondered about the veteran starter a "front-runner."
Injury issues led to Haren's first DL stint in 10 major league seasons in 2012, but all the concerns about the pitcher's health and decreasing velocity when he hit free agency were overblown in Haren's mind. Haren overcame a back issue that started early in the season last year to have an improved second half, and the hip which caused other teams some concern is something he told reporters in D.C. after signing he'd dealt with throughout his career. "I've never missed a day for any hip issue," Haren explained, describing it as a "management thing," before adding, "... I have to just take care of it and it's never caused me to miss any time and I'm sure it won't cause me to miss any time this year."
The numbers from last season backed up what the starter said about feeling better as the 2012 campaign went on. Haren was (6-8) with a 4.86 ERA (up over a career 3.66 ERA), 24 walks (2.08 BB/9) and 86 Ks (7.47 K/9) in 17 starts and 103.2 IP in a first half of the season which saw opponents put up a .297/.333/.484 line against him. When Haren returned from a post-All-Star Break DL stint, he posted a 3.58 ERA with 14 walks (1.72 BB/9) and 56 Ks (6.90 K/9) over his last 13 starts and 73.0 IP, holding opponents to a .243/.282/.432 line.
Haren's Spring Training numbers with the Nats weren't particularly impressive. He had a 6.39 ERA over 25.1 IP in which he gave up 30 hits, seven home runs and 18 runs total, walking five and striking out 18. Four of the home runs Haren surrendered, however, came in his final Grapefruit League outing. The fact that he followed up on that start with the four home run outing in Cincinnati's Great American Ballpark may have worried some who watched him, but not Davey Johnson.
"He's going to be fine," Davey Johnson told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Sports Junkies. "I like him, I like his make-up. I like his stuff. And he's going to be fine." According to FanGraphs.com, Haren's fastball had a little more on it in his first start after he'd lost velocity overall in each of the last three seasons. Haren averaged 89.1 mph with the fastball, up from an average velocity of 88.5 mph in 2012, though not quite back to the 90-91 mph he reached early in his career. As Haren explained this Spring, however, he's never relied on velocity.
"My game is all command, control," Haren explained, "Keeping guys off balance, in and out. And that's got to be a part of my game this year. I started doing it in September last year, I was just getting beat out over the plate too much and I was having a lot more success toward the end of the year." The Nats' skipper said the command wasn't there for Haren in his first start of 2013. In Johnson's thinking, as he told reporters after what ended up a 15-0 loss to the Reds, Haren left, "... the ball up a little bit," and, "the ball moved back over the middle of the plate. It can happen. He had a long layoff and that can cause you not to be sharp. It's just one game."
Haren gets a chance to erase the memory of his first start as a National when he takes the mound in Nationals Park tonight in the series finale against Chicago. As Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell (@ThomasBoswellWP) noted on Twitter this afternoon, the White Sox are a team Haren knows well:
Haren vs CWS should show a lot. 2 starts vs them in '12 after back from DL: 12 IP, 3 runs, two quality starts. That's SP Nats think they got— Thomas Boswell (@ThomasBoswellWP) April 11, 2013
In his career, Haren is (2-1) in six starts against the Sox with a 3.53 ERA, eight walks (2.02 BB/9) and 30 Ks (7.57 K/9) in 35.2 IP. The Nats' right-hander makes his first start at home in the nation's capital tonight at 7:05 pm EST with the Nationals looking for their sixth straight win in D.C. to start the season.