JUPITER, Fla. — Dan Haren couldn’t put his finger on exactly why he felt the way he did Friday afternoon at Roger Dean Stadium. He couldn’t pinpoint why his velocity was down a few ticks in the first inning or why his arm felt slow.
All he knew was that his five innings of work, in which he allowed five runs off six hits, struck out three and — perhaps most surprisingly — walked two batters, was not good.
“That was just one of those days, man,” Haren said. “I felt like I was throwing a weighted ball out there.
“It was just bad, all the way around. As I went along, it was a little bit better, but my first couple starts were far and away better than this. I don’t know if it’s dead arm, I don’t even know what that is, I just didn’t feel great.”
Most importantly for Haren and the Nationals, the right-hander said he was not worried, and he was not hurt.
“No,” he said, asked if there was a physical issue. “My whole body’s just kind of achy. My arm is slow, really slow right now. It’s actually been fast. I felt really good the first couple starts. But my arm was just slow.”
Manager Davey Johnson brushed it off as a simple case of spring training dead-arm, much like Jordan Zimmermann dealt with in his third start, and similar to what Johnson has seen happen with pitchers every spring for years.
“It always happens,” Johnson said. “It was one of those days where it’s tough to get up for it. It’s been a long spring, got a lot of work in. But I like the way he bounced back after not feeling right in the first inning.”
The first inning was indeed the worst for Haren. He faced eight hitters, allowed hits to four of the first five —including a leadoff home run to Jon Jay and a three-run shot to Matt Adams four batters later — and fell behind 1-0 to every hitter who ultimately got a hit off him.
His radar gun readings in the first inning were also low, even for him. Normally a pitcher who’s been in the 87-90 range with his fastball this spring, Haren was clocking in closer to 83 and 84 mph. That improved in the later innings.
“Early in the game, he was a little out of sorts,” Johnson said. “Looked like he was kind of rushing or something. He was leaving his arm back there… I didn’t have to see the radar guns. I could see the way he was throwing. I was ready to go hit.”
Haren was able to get through five innings, though, allowing just two more hits and walking two batters in the final four frames. Plus, he got his pitch count up to 81, throwing 50 strikes. Haren, who said he felt fine coming in and had no cause for alarm, fought his natural reaction after the first inning to try to compensate for what he didn’t have. Instead he tried to pull the reins back a little bit and focused on his location.
The right-hander, who has generally been self-aware and honest in his interviews this spring, pointed out that he has almost never been all that good in spring training. The 2012 spring, when he posted a 2.05 ERA was his finest and, in the regular season Haren posted the highest ERA of his career since becoming a regular major leaguer at 4.33 and spent time on the disabled list.
Otherwise, Haren has only had a spring ERA below 4.00 one other time, and that was in 2006.
Haren’s last two starts have also come at the end of at least a two-hour drive, in Lakeland, Fla., and Jupiter. While Haren declined to use that as an excuse, he admitted that the situation is “definitiely not ideal for what I’ve kind of dealt with in the past.”
“I’m never going to make excuses like that,” he said. “I had slop out there. It was embarrassing.”
When the day was over, though, Haren tried to look at the positives. He walked out of the clubhouse to a brilliantly sunny day and got in his car for the ride back to Viera. His next start would be better, he guaranteed it.
“I think everyone usually has one hiccup every spring,” he said. “People probably get a little more panicked when I do, just because of last year, so just all the more reason to look forward to the next start. I’ll be fine. I’ll be out there… I look forward to the next start. It’ll be better, guaranteed.”