VIERA, Fla. — As a pitcher who possesses one of the Top 10 best strikeout-to-walk ratios in baseball history, Dan Haren’s game starts and finishes with impeccable command of his pitches. Three times in the last five years, Haren has led the major leagues in that category.
It was unlike him, then, when he started his first spring game as a Washington National falling behind the first two hitters 1-0, and the third 3-0.
“It was kind of a circus to start,” Haren said of his two innings of work, allowing a run on two hits, though he settled in considerably and struck out three with 35 pitches (24 of them strikes).
Just another reminder that it’s spring training — and that nerves don’t discriminate when it’s the first one.
“There’s nerves every day,” said Haren, a 10-year veteran. “Every time I’ve taken the mound in my career there’s nerves. I was nervous waking up today. I think if you’re not like nervous, you shouldn’t even do it anymore. But you know, this is what gets us going – competing. And it starts today.”
Haren, who threw primarily fastballs and cutters, mixed in one curveball and two split-fingered fastballs. He’s been working on different aspects of his game this spring as he continues to build arm strength, including coming inside more to right-handed hitters. Most of the times he tried that against the Marlins on Wednesday they were called balls, except for one foul he recalled, but he felt good about the progress he’s been making.
“That’s got to be a part of my game this year,” he said. “I started doing it in September last year. I was just getting beat out over the plate too much and was having a lot more success at the end of the year. So I came in dedicated to working that side of the plate this year.”
Haren knows he’s not going to blow any batters away. In 2012, his average fastball was 88.5 mph, according to Fangraphs.com, and the highest average he’s ever had, in 2007 with the A’s, was just 91.8 mph. That hasn’t stopped him from establishing himself as one of the most reliable pitchers in the major leagues with a 3.66 career ERA. In fact he looked at his skillset, as different as it is from the rest of the Nationals’ rotation, as a plus for the team.
“My fastball usually hovers around where (Stephen) Strasburg’s changeup is so it’s going to be quite a different look for guys,” Haren said. “But when I try to throw hard is when I get in trouble and I start elevating the ball and leaving balls down the middle. Whatever I have that day I’m going to be trying to work the corners. I minimize walks. 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 it’s going to be good coming in after me it’s going to be tough for the opposing team I think.”
The start was also another step for Haren in getting more comfortable with his new team. One of the few new members of the Nationals, that has been a process for the right-hander as well.
“Anytime coming into a new clubhouse, it’s difficult,” he said. “You’re basically thrown in with a bunch of guys and you have to become friends with them. I’m more of an introverted personality, so that’s more difficult for me. But I’m starting to get to know the guys. Guys are starting to open up to me, I’m starting to open up to them. It’s going to be a journey…
“You gain respect from your peers by going out there and performing and winning and doing well. I think that’s how you get respect from people. My track record is good but of course I want to go out there and compete and show the guys I’m going to be good. I felt good with the way it went today and there’s a long way to go.”