Four runs in the first inning of a start in Kansas City, followed by six scoreless innings in which the Royals barely touched him. Two straight starts in which he didn't make it to the fourth inning, followed by six scoreless in which he walked one and gave up one hit while striking out eight. It's been that kind of year for Washington Nationals' starter Dan Haren. Haren's 27th start of his 11th MLB season saw the 32-year-old right-hander once again finding whatever it was he didn't have in his previous two outings and pitching more like the kind of pitcher who a few weeks back looked like he might get a qualifying offer after all.
Tonight in Citi Field in Flushing, Queens, NY, Haren held the Mets hitless through three and retired 18 of the 20 batters he faced overall before exiting the game in favor of pinch hitter Steve Lombardozzi in the top of the seveventh and left-hander Xavier Cedeno in the bottom of the inning.
"I went up to [Haren] after the game," Davey Johnson told reporters after the Nationals' 3-0 win. "I said, 'That's the first time I've hooked a guy with a one-hitter.' But it was hot out there and he pitched a great ballgame. He made quality pitches all night long and good hitters couldn't handle him. Just what we needed. Close ballgame and he kept us right there." Ryan Zimmerman homered in the top of the sixth, before Haren was done and after he finished the sixth on a humid 84° night in New York, the Nats' skipper went to his pen.
"It's kind of hot," Johnson explained, "and in a game like that when my pitcher has [done] a good job, with the way the lineup was setting up, I'm not going to let him lose that game after pitching that great for six innings. And I also wanted to get a look at Cedeno in a tough situation on some left-handers. [Syracuse manager] Tony Beasley said [Cedeno] pitched better than [Ian] Krol down there [at Triple-A] for him. He liked the way [Cedeno] attacked left-handers and I wanted to see it. I hadn't seen it yet up here. And he did a great job. I like the way he went after the first two guys and he'll get more work."
Cedeno, who'd pitched just 1 2/3 innings for the Nationals this season in spite of being called up numerous times, retired the two batters he faced on eight pitches, striking Daniel Murphy out with an 0-2 curve and getting a fly to right from Lucas Duda before he was replaced on the mound by Drew Storen. Johnson took the advice of the skipper of top affiliate and liked what he saw.
"[Beasley] had both," Johnson explained. "And he liked the way [Cedeno] attacked left-handers. He thinks the guy may have a higher ceiling but he's not quite there yet. He's still quite young. But that was big. First time I brought a left-hander in that really looked good going after them."
After Cedeno, Storen gave up a hit but got the final out of the seventh. Tyler Clippard threw a 12-pitch, 1-2-3 eighth and Rafael Soriano threw a seven-pitch ninth. Anthony Rendon's two-out, two-run double in the eighth gave the Nationals, their set-up man and their closer a cushion, but Ryan Zimmerman's sixth inning home run provided all the offense the Nats' needed. Davey Johnson said after the game that his third baseman finally seems comfortable on both sides over the last few weeks.
"I like the way his batting practices have been," Johnson said. "He's been attacking the ball more in BP. Actually, I think he's been working on pulling the ball more and most of his home runs have been to left field. I just like what I'm seeing there and when he does seem to pull the ball he seems to get to the ball quicker. So, the results, he's hit a bunch of home runs here in the last week I don't know how many?"
"Seven," a reporter said. Though it's actually six in the last week, seven in 48 plate appearances in September and now five in his last 22 at bats. "I like the way he's going," Johnson said. Zimmerman was replaced in the field by Zach Walters in the bottom of the ninth, however, but the Nationals' manager said that he was just being cautious. "He got hit in the back stealing second [in the seventh] so he was a little tight, so I took him out."
So, in spite of all the concerns about Zimmerman's defense, no, it was not a defensive replacement situation. And Walters actually made a lot of errors in the field this season. 31 errors in 104 games...
Johnson actually said he liked what he saw from Zimmerman in the field, especially on a strong throw from third base after he backhanded a sharp grounder from Ruben Tejada in the third. "He's throwing the ball a lot better," Johnson said, "He made a play to his right and came over the top and threw a nice strike over there. I like what I'm seeing."
"It's been a good year for him," the outgoing 70-year-old manager continued, "with all he's been through with his shoulder and everything and the trials and tribulations he had early, I think he's starting to feel much more comfortable out there and better about how it's all coming out."
"So," Johnson said with a smile, addressing the reporter who asked about Zimmerman's defense, "we ain't moving him to first if that's what you're thinking."
• AUDIO: Nats Nightly w/ Dave Nichols from the District Sports Page And Doghouse From FBB:
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