LAKELAND, Fla. — A lot of this spring for Dan Haren is about acclimating himself and adjusting to new things. A new team, new teammates, new facilities, a new league and new catchers. Then there are the new things he’s trying to add to a repertoire that has made him one of the most reliable starting pitchers in the major leagues over the course of his career.
In that regard, Haren has often said that he is a work in progress. But he made another stride on Sunday, throwing 61 pitches in four innings against the Detroit Tigers, and working inside to right-handed hitters more often.
“It’s just something I’ve got to work on,” Haren said, ticking off some of his results while doing so on Sunday: a hit by Jhonny Peralta, but outs from Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter.
Wilson Ramos caught Haren Sunday and as the two get to know each other, Haren noticed that Ramos likes to call inside fastballs often. That helped him continue to work on that aspect of his game.
“There would be games that would go by (last year) where I wouldn’t throw anything inside to righties,” Haren said. “So it’s just a matter of keeping hitters honest, being able to work both sides of the plate. I was stubborn in the past. I felt like I’d want them to beat me out over the plate — but I was getting beat out over the plate, so I had to make adjustments.
“I feel like it’s opening up the outside part of the plate for me a little bit. If you move guys’ feet, it always helps. If you move a batter’s feet in that at-bat, a lot of times you’re going to have success. So it’s just about making hitters uncomfortable, really.”
Haren is big on communication between he and his catcher so he’s been working at building his relationship with Ramos and Kurt Suzuki. If Ramos is catching him in his start, he’s asked Suzuki to catch his bullpen and vice-versa. And the chatter between innings has been important, too.
“Everything he throws is moving around,” Ramos said. “He’s got good command and a lot of experience. He throws pretty good to both sides of the plate. Every pitch, any count. Those pitches, like Livan Hernandez: on both sides of the plate, good command, corners, in and out. He’s very good when I’m behind the plate and I put something down and you’re sure he will throw that pitch.”
On Sunday Haren was disappointed in his inability to put hitters away on a handful of occasions, with three of the five hits he allowed coming with two strikes. But that was a minor footnote in an otherwise successful step for the right-hander as he continues to progress toward the season.
The radar gun at Joker Marchant Stadium sat mostly between 88 and 91 mph when Haren was throwing his fastball, and while that’s where he wants to be, he is extremely aware of what his strengths are — and it has everything to do with locating his pitches.
“People are obsessed with velocity,” Haren said, readily pointing out that he’s the oldest and slowest-throwing pitcher in the Nationals’ rotation. “It’s like the game has passed me by, in that sense. You can only name a handful of right-handed starting pitchers that throw under 90 off the top of your head. Velocity just gives me a little bit more of a margin for error. My game is control, though, so if I’m hitting my spots, whether it’s 87 or 90, I’ll get the guy out.”