VIERA, Fla. — Class will not be called to order.
Dan Haren, the man the Washington Nationals signed in the offseason to join their starting rotation, won’t gather new teammates Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler around for a chat. There are no information-packed notebooks to pass around.
Haren, 32, says he isn’t coming in with the intent of being anyone’s mentor. But that figures to happen anyway, even if he never says a word. With as much experience as the others combined, he can likely help the Nats as much off the mound as he can on it.
“They don’t even have to say anything,” said Detwiler, a 10-game winner a year ago in his first extended turn in the rotation. “Just seeing how they go about their business, seeing how they work off the field, how he’s been around and been so good for so long. It helps show you what the elite guys do.”
Added Gonzalez, a 21-game winner and All-Star last season, “When I heard we picked him up, I thought it was a great thing we did. First thing I said is that guy is going to help us, going to polish us. He has some stripes under his belt, has some knowledge of the game. We have a bunch of live arms here and a guy like Dan Haren can really help teach us.”
Haren isn’t on anyone’s list of future Hall of Famers. He’s not been a dominant pitcher. If they ever come up with a Hall of Really Good and Reliable, he’d be a first-ballot entrant. Last year with the Angels was a blip, with his first trip to the disabled list and a losing record. He still managed to win 12 games and finish strong. He had a 1-5 record at one point and ended up 12-13.
He’s won at least 12 games every year since 2005, and in six of those years, he won at least 14. He is a three-time All-Star with impeccable control and a history of going deep into games.
“We think we’re going to get ourselves the Dan Haren of years back,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “We think we have ourselves one heck of a pitcher on the mound and in the clubhouse. I’ve known him since he was in high school and I’ve always liked his character. He is a terrific teammate.”
Haren said he knows a good bit about his new teammates already. Nationals games were often just starting on the other coast as Haren reported for work with the Angels. He’s at least five years older than all of them and speaks of their power arms with a little bit of awe. “They all know how to pitch,” he said.
The others can get well into the 90s with their fastballs. Haren can’t. That Haren isn’t the same type of pitcher doesn’t mean he can’t help. Preparation, dealing with situations, game management and the like are as important as being able to blow a fastball by someone.
“Maybe I could pick up something along the way and help them,” Haren said. “More than that, I want to be the guy they can turn to, maybe things aren’t going great, just with some of the experience I’ve had I can talk to them about it. If I see something, I’ll say it.
“Coming in here, I have to earn their respect first. I’m a new guy here. I have to go out and perform. When you go out there and perform and win, guys look up to you. I’ve won for the majority of my career, hopefully I can do that here.”
Haren’s career stats line up pretty evenly with the combined stats of his four new rotation mates. The one glaring difference is with control. Even though he’s pitched 74 2/3 more innings, he has 395 career walks compared to 639 for the others. You can’t always power your way out of trouble and Haren’s best contribution may be an ability to help them stay out of trouble.
“He doesn’t have overpowering velocity,” pitching coach Steve McCatty said. “He throws the ball over the plate. He doesn’t walk people. That’s what they have to watch.”
Haren can fill the same role with the pitching staff that Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche filled with the offense a year ago. Reliability and consistency (when healthy) have marked LaRoche’s career, too, and he showed that with a 33-home run, 100-RBI season. He earned the National League’s Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards.