VIERA, Fla. — As a pitcher who possesses one of the 10 best strikeout-to-walk ratios in baseball history, Dan Haren has a game that starts and finishes with impeccable command of his pitches. Three times in the past five years, Haren led the majors in that category.
It was unlike him, then, when he started his first spring game as a 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) in the Nationals’ 5-1 loss to the Marlins.
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. The highest average he’s ever had was in 2007 with the A’s, at 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 skill set — 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 change-up 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.”
Nats set Soriano’s schedule
Rafael Soriano came away pleased from his first session facing hitters since the end of the New York Yankees’ playoff run in October, throwing batting practice to Ian Desmond, Wilson Ramos, Will Rhymes and Jhonatan Solano. He threw at about 60 percent effort, he said, in no rush to force himself to be ready for a season that remains more than a month away.
Soriano may throw one more live BP before he gets into a spring game, but the Nationals have worked with him to spread out his eight planned appearances over the remaining 30 Grapefruit League games. He will pitch on back-to-back days once, near the end of the spring.
His first appearance likely won’t be until Tuesday against the Houston Astros, manager Davey Johnson said, and Soriano would prefer not to face teams in the Nationals’ division because he doesn’t want them to get too many looks at him before the season begins.
Around the horn
Chris Young also threw live batting practice Wednesday, and the Nationals plan to have him follow Ross Detwiler to the mound Sunday before assuming Detwiler’s spot in the rotation when he leaves for the World Baseball Classic. … Will Ohman, a nonroster left-handed reliever, has not appeared in a game yet and is dealing with a hamstring strain. … Henry Rodriguez will face hitters in live BP for the first time Thursday. … Wilson Ramos is about a week away from serving as the designated hitter, Johnson said, and the same could be true for Ryan Zimmerman.