There were a few audible gasps from the crowd of 38,903 in Nationals Park on a long Joey Votto fly ball to center field, but Washington Nationals' center fielder Denard Span got under it and made the catch at the wall in front of the #NATITUDE sign for the final out of a 10-pitch, 1-2-3 first for Nats' starter Dan Haren in this afternoon's game against the Cincinnati Reds. Before today's game, Nationals' manager Davey Johnson said he's seen improvement from Haren over the first four starts of the 32-year-old, 11-year veteran's tenure in the nation's capital. One of those starts came against the same Reds team he faces today.
On April 5th in Haren's first outing as a National, he gave up nine hits, four home runs and six runs total in four innings of work in Great American Ballpark, though some of the home runs were questionable and the park's a bit of a bandbox. Asked what he wanted to see Haren do differently this time out, the Nats' 70-year-old skipper said, "I think Haren was building arm strength in the Spring and came out trying to join the group of flamethrowers, mid-90's guys, and he quit doing the things that make him successful, locate the ball, control the bat speed by changing speeds and he showed more signs of going back to that his last time out. So I feel that he's -- like all the guys who've been trying to be somebody else other than who they have been. [Trying] to be too fine. And it looks like they're coming back and starting to do things they're capable of doing. Same with Gio [Gonzalez] and [Jordan] Zimmermann the last couple of days. And I feel that Haren's going to fall right in that group too. He's going to start pitching."
• Haren's second inning of work against the Reds went well too. Brandon Phillips singled through short to start the frame, but a pop to the catcher by Jay Bruce and a 5-4-3 DP off Chris Heisey's bat had the Nats' starter through two scoreless on 21 pitches. Adam LaRoche's streak of hitless at bats stretched to 19 when he struck out to start the Nats' second. Reds' starter Mike Leake issued his second free pass in two innings to Ian Desmond with one down and his third to Anthony Rendon in the AB that followed. Kurt Suzuki popped to foul territory off third, however, bringing Haren up with two out and the not-so-bad-hitting pitcher took a 1-2 curve to right for an RBI single that made it 1-0 Nats. A two-out single to center by Denard Span brought Rendon in and it was 2-0 Nationals after two. 46 pitches total for Leake in 2.0 IP and the two walks score.
A groundout to second by Reds' 3B Jack Hannahan and swinging Ks by Devin Mesoraco and Leake had Haren through three scoreless on 35 pitches after a 14-pitch third. Bryce Harper was waiting on a first-pitch curve from the Reds' right-handed starter and he ripped a grounder through the left side of the infield for a leadoff single in the Nationals' half of the third. Zack Cozart dove for a Jayson Werth grounder to short and made a strong throw from one knee, but the Nats' right fielder beat it to first for an infield single that put two on for Adam LaRoche, who was 0 for his last 20 after he flew out to left unproductively. Ian Desmond came through with an RBI single to center in the next at bat, scoring Harper from second to make it 3-0 Nationals and Reds' third baseman Jack Hannahan dove for a Kurt Suzuki grounder before throwing the ball past second looking for the force. Werth scored on the E5, and it was 4-0 Nats after three in D.C.
• Shin-Shoo Choo flew to center. Zack Cozart sent a one-hopper to Anthony Rendon at third. Joey Votto? Opposite field double. Bryce Harper played it off the wall and made a strong throw to second but Votto reached safely and scored on an RBI single by Brandon Phillips that got the Reds on the board. 4-1 Nats after three and a half. The 21-pitch inning had Haren up to 56 after four. Mike Leake was replaced by Alfredo Simon in the bottom of the fourth after 3.0 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 71 P, 44 S. Denard Span singled to start the Nationals' fourth, but was forced out on a grounder to second by Danny Espinosa. Espinosa reached first safely, however, and scored on Bryce Harper's 9th HR of the year. Harper took a 91 mph 1-2 cutter out to right over the United Airlines sign and into the Nationals' bullpen for a two-run blast and a 6-1 lead after four.
Jack Hannahan reached safely with one down in the Reds' fifth when Danny Espinosa got to a grounder on the right field grass but threw wide of Adam LaRoche at first. Kindly ruled a single. Two outs later, Hannahan was left on base when Haren retired Devin Mesoraco, and with some help from a charging Anthony Rendon, the opposing pitcher to complete his fifth inning of work. The 11-pitch frame had the Nats' right-hander at 67 overall. Rendon started the Nats' fifth with an opposite field single to right in a six-pitch at bat against Simon. The Nats' third baseman took second on a Kurt Suzuki groundout and third on a Dan Haren grounder to first, but was stranded when Denard Span flew to center to end the fifth. Still 6-1 Nationals.
Dan Haren's 73rd pitch of the game was a 90 mph 2-2 fastball to Shin-Soo Choo that flew out to right field and over the out-of-town scoreboard for a leadoff blast in the Cincinnati sixth. Choo's fourth home run was the sixth off Haren so far this season. Zack Cozart followed with a single in the next at bat and Joey Votto almost hit one out to left only to have Denard Span make a leaping catch in front of the 377 ft sign in front of the visitor's bullpen. Long out for Votto. One down for Haren, and a 6-4-3 DP off Brandon Phillips' bat ended the Reds' sixth. Another 21-pitch inning for Haren, and 88 overall after six.
Bryce Harper walked with one down in the Nationals' sixth. So did Werth. But Harper was thrown out at third on an attempted double steal and Adam LaRoche grounded to short to end the inning. Still 6-2.
• Dan Haren's Line: 6.0 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 5 K, 1 HR, 88 P, 56 S, 5/3 GO/FO.
Zach Duke took over on the mound in the top of the seventh. Danny Espinosa threw away a grounder to second by Jay Bruce in the first at bat of the seventh, E4, gifting a base to the Reds' slugger. With a runner on second, Duke walked Xavier Paul, but struck Jack Hannahan out for the first out of the frame. Devin Mesoraco flew to right for out no.2 and Davey Johnson went to the pen for Tyler Clippard when Reds' skipper Dusty Baker turned to pinch hitter Todd Frazier. The Reds' hard-hitting infielder took a 2-2 change from Clippard through the left side for an RBI single that made it a 6-3 game, and a walk to Shin-Soo Choo loaded the bases with two down, but Denard Span ran down a fly to center off Zack Cozart's bat to leave'em loaded at the end of the inning. 6-3 Nats after six and a half. J.J. Hoover retired the Nationals in order in the bottom of the seventh.
Drew Storen came out of the bullpen for the eighth. Brandon Phillips hit 1-1 change to left for a one-out, line drive single and Jay Bruce grounded through the left side. Xavier Paul stepped in with two on and one out and hit a one-hopper to short to start an inning-ending 6-4-3. 6-3 Nats after seven and a half. Sean Marshall took over for the Reds in the eighth and struck out both pinch hitter Steve Lombardozzi and Denard Span. Danny Espinosa stepped in from the right side and flew out to short right to end the eighth.
"Pitch it, Soriano! Pitch it, Soriano! Strike him out, Soriano! Strike him out, Soriano!" Nats' closer Rafael Soriano came out for the ninth. Cesar Izturis? Swinging K. ONE!! Devin Mesoraco? Line drive to Desmond at short. TWO!!! Todd Frazier? Full count. Swinging K. Ballgame.
Work's done. Untuck that jersey, son!!
Nationals win, 6-3 final.
Nationals now 13-11