Coming off a 3-3 road trip through Miami and New York on which they dropped two of three to the Mets, Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson told reporters before tonight's game that the first of three with the St. Louis Cardinals who knocked them out of last October's NLDS was important for the defending NL East Champs. "Today is very important for us," Johnson said. "We came out of a series --- we didn't play that well. We need to get back on the right foot. They're a good ballclub, so it will be a good test for us. This whole week is going to be good. So, but no, it's just another ballgame, it's a very important one." It was also an important start for Dan Haren.
The 32-year-old right-hander who signed with Washington as a free agent this winter was off to a rough start with the nation's capital's Nats and as the Nationals' 70-year-old skipper explained, it was important for Haren to have a strong outing tonight against St. Louis. So far this year, Johnson said, "He's been probably trying to throw too hard and not pitch the way he pitches. Last year, I remember he mentioned it, he didn't start throwing the ball around 90 mph until September. So he feels stronger. He's probably trying to do too much with his fastball and not enough with his other stuff. But, he's fine."
Haren had his best start thus far this season tonight in Nationals Park. The '01 Cardinals' 2nd Round pick held St. Louis to three runs on six hits, and two of the runs came on a catchable fly in left center off Allen Craig's bat that Denard Span dropped when he made a leaping attempt at the wall. Two runs scored on Craig's hit, however, after Haren had surrendered a one-out single by Pete Kozma and put Matt Carpenter on with a two-out walk. Haren said after the start that he didn't think Craig got all of the 2-1 cutter he threw him. "I was trying to make a pitch," the Nats' starter said, "It caught a little more plate than I thought, but I didn't think he hit it as well as it went, especially on a night like tonight. But the guy's strong."
Haren left the game in the top of the sixth inning after having given up a run, when Matt Holliday scored two singles after he was hit by a pitch in the first at bat of the inning. Haren loaded the bases with no outs with a walk to David Freese. Craig Stammen came on and somehow retired the side without another run scoring. (3-2-3 DP, swinging K). But the Cards took a 3-2 lead two innings after the Nats had tied it and Haren eventually took the loss to drop to (1-3) on the year.
"He finished off the fifth real good," Johnson told reporters after the Nats' fourth straight loss at home, "And figured we could get through six, but it didn't work out." Haren started the sixth at 87 pitches. 11 pitches later he'd given up the tie-breaking run and loaded the bases without recording an out. Johnson said the start, "Was a very positive outing for me."
"I think he's got to be much more pleased," Johnson said, "I think that's more of the Dan Haren we're used to seeing. He used all his pitches and he threw more offspeed pitches today than he normally does which I like." Haren mixed in four-seamers, two-seamers, cutters and splitters, and in the third, broke out a curve. A splitter in the dirt got Allen Craig swinging for the final out of the fifth as Haren stranded Pete Kozma after walking the pesky Cardinals' infielder in the first at bat of the frame. Holliday, Beltran and Molina were aggressive in the sixth, however, and they jumped on Haren early in the count and eventually knocked him out.
"I don't think he had as good command of some of those offspeed pitches as he would have liked," Davey Johnson said, but the start as a whole, "That, I thought, was a good step forward."
It wasn't enough, however, for the Nationals to beat the Cardinals. Ross Detwiler will give it a try on Tuesday night.