Another road start for Haren (plus Nats-Braves lineups)

VIERA, Fla. - Dan Haren gets another crack at finding his velocity and command tonight when the Nationals venture to Champion Field for a 6:05 p.m. game against the Atlanta Braves. So far this spring, Haren hasn’t looked very good, posting a 5.79 ERA in four starts.

A look inside the stats makes Haren’s spring starts look even more confounding. In 14 innings pitched, he’s yielded 15 hits and nine runs. But most of the damage has been of his own doing - Haren’s allowed only three walks, struck out 10 and posted a 1.286 WHIP. Not exactly the kind of stuff you expect from a guy being paid $13 million to solidify the back end of the rotation on a club with championship aspirations.

Manager Davey Johnson has professed confidence in the veteran right-hander, mostly based on Haren’s track record. Signed to be the fifth starter, it’s quite possible he slots in at No. 4, bumping Ross Detwiler to No. 5.

But velocity has been an issue, particularly in his last couple of starts. As’s Dan Kolko noted after his last start in Jupiter on March 15, spring training hasn’t typically been statistically kind to Haren. And perhaps that’s why he’s got some leeway from Johnson, who knows Haren’s history and propensity to struggle in spring before answering the regular season bell.

One thing to note from Haren’s last two starts, in which he yielded a combined seven runs on 11 hits over nine innings. They came on a two-hour trip to Lakeland to face the Tigers and a 90-minute trek to Jupiter against the Cardinals. It’s not easy for a pitcher - veteran or otherwise - to sit on a bus for up to a couple of hours, uncoil himself from an uncomfortable seat and just throw bullets.

Maybe that explains what’s been happening of late more than pointing to dead arm syndrome, which happens every spring when a pitcher scuffles through a couple of outings.

Haren admitted he felt “achy” after his last start, so who knows what an hour-long trip to Lake Buena Vista tonight will bring?

Either way, Haren doesn’t put much stock into spring stats. As long as he’s feeling good, that’s all that matters. And Johnson, a player’s manager if ever there was one, tends to agree.

Here’s the Nationals lineup for tonight’s game. I’ll post the Braves batting order once I get to the happiest baseball field on Earth (anyone want to put a wager down on what character makes an appearance at tonight’s game? I always seem to get Goofy when I visit Champion Field).

For the Nationals:

CF - Denard Span
RF - Jayson Werth
LF - Bryce Harper
3B - Ryan Zimmerman
1B - Adam LaRoche
SS - Ian Desmond
2B - Danny Espinosa
C - Wilson Ramos
RHP - Dan Haren

Look for Ramos to go pretty deep into tonight’s game. Kurt Suzuki went all the way yesterday against the Marlins in Jupiter and Johnson has expressed a desire to start playing his catchers longer. It helps build their endurance behind the plate and gives the relief pitchers a better chance to work with the backstops they’ll be paired with in the regular season.

After Haren, the Nationals will bring the following pitchers to Lake Buena Vista for tonight’s game: left-hander Fernando Abad and right-handers Jeremy Accardo, Ryan Mattheus, Craig Stammen and Drew Storen.

Update: Here’s the Braves lineup:

SS - Andrelton Simmons
CF - Reed Johnson
RF - Jason Heyward
LF - Justin Upton
3B - Juan Francisco
1B - Chris Johnson
2B - Tyler Pastornicky
C - Matt Pagnozzi
RHP - Tim Hudson

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