Some interested teams were reportedly concerned about what they saw in Dan Haren's medical records when the pitcher hit free agency this winter. His hip has been an issue since he was in college, though he said it never caused him to miss a start. A back issue last season sent him to the DL for the first time in his 10-year career, but he came back with a strong second half after struggling before the All-Star Break. Then there was the velocity. Haren went from throwing a fastball that sat around 90-91 mph in 2010 to a pitcher with a 89-90 mph fastball in 2011 and then an 88-89 mph heater in 2012. Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo wasn't worried.
As the Nats' general manager told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Grant Paulsen in a late January interview, after the Nationals surprised some by signing Haren to a 1-year/$13M dollar deal this winter, Rizzo believed they were going to get a healthy Haren who was more the pitcher he was over the first nine years of his career than the pitcher who worried some last season.
"I saw him pitch with the hip situation all the way back in Pepperdine," Rizzo explained, "So he's had this throughout his baseball career and we feel that he's going to increase range of motion in the hip which I think will translate into added velocity, which isn't his game, but I think that we're going to get back the guy that's pitching at 90-91 [mph] and touching 92 rather than the guy that's pitching at 88-90 and touching 91."
A scout that Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore spoke to after Haren's first start of the Spring this afternoon (2.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 3 Ks, 35 P, 24 S) told the WaPost reporter the velocity was there for the veteran right hander over the two innings he threw against the Miami Marlins:
"Haren’s fastball, by the way, sat between 89 and 91 miles per hour and touched 93, according to one scout’s radar gun. 'Action on every pitch,' he said."
Haren doesn't rely on velocity of course, for him it's more about location, movement and setting up hitters as he explained today. "It's not a thing where I'm going to throw 95," Haren said, "but one pitch is going to cut and one pitch is going to sink but they're going to look the same, and then, you know, maybe getting a hitter to back off the plate and then going away, it's a cat and mouse game more for me, rather than an overpowering game."
The veteran starter said he's more worried about working on some specific areas of his game this Spring than anything else. "I have things that I'm working on," Haren explained after today's outing. "Like I told you guys before, certain sides of the plate, fastballs in to righties. Stuff that I haven't been very good at in the past and this is definitely the time to do it." As for how he felt when he did go inside to right handers today, the pitcher said, "It felt good. Most of them were balls. I threw one strike with it, and the guy fouled it off, but it's a different feel to go in to a righty, where to start the pitch..."
"My game is all command, control," the 32-year-old starter continued, "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, so I came in dedicated to working that side of the plate this year."
Aside from working on his command, Haren said his goals for the rest of Spring Training are simple. "Just build up arm strength," the pitcher said. "The first inning today was just an example of how Spring Training can be, falling behind 3-0, falling behind most of the first four or five hitters I was 1-0 to, so, that's not my game. Working first pitch strikes, keeping the ball down in the zone, working in and out... and as the Spring goes along it will get more crisp. I'm not a guy when you're going to watch me and it's going to be like, 'Wow, his stuff looks amazing today,' you know, it's more of a thing where I just work to get people out. It doesn't have to look good, I just want to get them out."
Though he doesn't think he's going to wow people who watch him, his stuff was sharp today and Haren did make some hitters look uncomfortable in his second inning of work as he struck both Marlins' catcher Kyle Skipworth and outfielder Gorkys Hernandez out in a 15-pitch inning. It's not about his velocity or his stuff, but as the pitcher explained, he might fit in well amongst the other pitchers in the Nats' rotation and bullpen.
"My fastball usually hovers around where [Stephen] Strasburg's changeup is," Haren joked, "It's going to be quite a different look for guys, but when I try to throw hard is when I get in trouble. I start elevating the balls, leaving balls down the middle. I just, whatever I have that day I'm going to be trying to work the corners, but that said, I minimize walks, so I walk the tightrope and throughout the course of my career I've been able to stay upright. I think it's going to be good though. We've got a lot of hard-throwers in the bullpen too, so coming in after me it's going to be tough for the opposing team I think."