Dan Haren would later admit to reporters, including MLB.com's Andrew Simon, that when he went on the DL for the second time in his 11-year major league career on June 25th, he thought he was, "'...a bad start of two away from getting released.'" The 32-year-old right-hander who signed a 1-year/$13M deal with Washington this past winter, had just completed a particularly rough stretch of four starts in June in which he allowed 29 hits, 20 runs, seven home runs (3.44 BB/9) and four walks (1.96 BB/9) in 18 1/3 IP over which opposing hitters had a .354/.391/.720 line.
While Haren had concerns about his future, Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson told Nats radio announcer Charlie Slowes he was convinced the St. Louis Cardinals' 2001 2nd Round pick out of Pepperdine University still had something left. Johnson looked back to a May 2nd outing on the road in Turner Field as proof of what Haren could do on the mound when healthy.
"I always go back to the game he pitched against Atlanta," Johnson said of Haren's outing against the Braves, "[He] went eight strong innings and was outstanding against a good-hitting ballclub and he made quality pitches throughout the whole game." Haren allowed just four hits and one run in eight innings on the mound over which he threw 90 pitches in a 3-1 Nats' win.
Haren credited catcher Wilson Ramos' work behind the plate for his success that night. Davey Johnson said he thought everyone saw the real Haren. "That was more like him," the Nats' skipper told reporters, explaining that when the pitcher is on, he, "... moves the ball around [and] pitches. And that's what he did today, which was nice to see."
"That's the kind of ballgame he can pitch," Johnson said. The hope, in spite of the fact that the circumstances were different (lower back in 2012/shoulder in 2013), was that Haren would return from the DL as he had the previous season after the first DL stint of his career, rejuvenated and capable of helping the Nationals make a run at a second straight postseason berth. He was placed on the DL with right shoulder inflammation. A cortisone shot convinced Haren that his shoulder might have been worse than he previously thought. Over a nine-game stretch after he returned to the rotation (which included one relief appearance against Atlanta), Haren had a 2.16 ERA over 50 IP in which he held opposing hitters to a .193/.244/.298 line.
The next three starts weren't as successful, however. Haren gave up four runs in the first inning of an outing against the Royals, then gave up nine hits and seven runs in 2 2/3 innings of work against the Mets and six hits and five runs in three innings against the Marlins. Last time out he was sharp again. Given another shot at New York, Haren held the Mets to one hit and a walk in six scoreless innings in which he struck out eight on the road in Citi Field.
"He pitched a great ballgame," Johnson told reporters after that game. "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."
Now the Nationals need Haren to go out this afternoon and beat Atlanta again. This time it's in Nationals Park. As Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer David O'Brien noted on Monday, if the Braves can sweep today's doubleheader or win two out of three in the series, they can clinch the NL East in the nation's capital. Injured members of the Braves team made the trip to Washington, D.C. just in case it happened on the home field of the defending NL East Champs.
"We don't want that," Davey Johnson told reporters on Sunday. The Nationals have to take at least two out of three from the Braves to keep it from happening.
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