Can Nats reverse fortunes vs. teams over .500?
Since returning from the disabled list on July 8, Dan Haren has been a markedly better pitcher. The difference is striking.
He was diagnosed with shoulder stiffness and administered a cortisone shot, but if you ask Haren, the problem wasn’t physical. The drastic improvement is simply a change in approach. He is more conservative with his pitches and focuses on keeping the ball low.
It sounds simple but whatever, it’s working.
“I’m definitely happier with the way I’m throwing than I was a month ago,” he said. “Before I went on the DL it was a mixture of making a few bad pitches, a little bit of bad luck. Now I’m just more focused on keeping the ball down, keeping the defense in the game.”
Since facing the Phillies in his July 8 return, Haren has held a 2.30 ERA with 42 strikeouts and ten walks in 43 total innings. He went to the DL with a 6.15 season ERA, it’s now 4.82.
Haren continued his resurgence on Thursday with six innings of one-run ball, allowing just three hits and two walks. He battled through a 27-pitch first inning with the bases loaded to make it six, salvaging what at first looked like a regression to his early season self.
Haren’s sole costly mistake was a home run to Brandon Belt, but given it was a solo shot, he’ll take it.
“I had a couple of walks, but they didn’t burn me,” he said. “The solo homer, that’s no big deal there. I definitely didn’t have my best stuff, but I made it work.”
The home run was just his third in seven starts since coming off the DL, he had allowed 19 in his previous 15 outings. That’s more than a homer a game and left him among the worst in the majors in the category.
Now, Haren says, he’s more careful in tight situations. Instead of trying to attack a hitter when he’s down on the ropes, he’ll play it safe to prevent further damage.
“I’m just trying to minimize home runs, especially in big situations. Even today, with second and third in the first inning and [Hunter] Pence up, I walked him,” he said.
“Early in the year I might have thrown something in the middle and challenged him and get burned there. I tried to make a pitch, missed, and then went after the next guy. Sometimes I was a little bit over aggressive earlier in the year. But just keeping the ball down, missing down in the zone, it’s made a big difference.”
Despite the Nationals losing, several players drew Haren’s outing as a positive from the game. He is showing consistency and they’ll need it in order to chase the NL Wild Card.
“This is how we know Danny can pitch,” Ryan Zimmerman said. “I don’t think anybody was more upset with the way he was pitching than himself. I think for him to come off the DL and pitch like he’s pitched and finish the year strong, it shows you not only what kind of person he is but what kind of pitcher he’s been his whole career.”