JUPITER, Fla. - It’s been somewhat of an ongoing theme this spring: Dan Haren pitches pretty well, but has one bad inning or makes a few bad pitches and his stat line suffers, making it look as if he’s getting bashed all around the park.
Today, Haren worked six innings, allowing seven hits and five earned runs. He allowed four home runs - two off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton - and will finish the Grapefruit League season with a 6.39 ERA, having allowed 14 earned runs in his last 16 1/3 innings.
But Haren insists he isn’t concerned about the numbers. The conditions here at Roger Dean Stadium (where Haren has made two of his last three starts) are less than ideal, with the wind blowing out heavily to right. On top of that, Haren has had stretches where he’s settled into a groove, like today when he set down nine in a row after a second-inning homer.
“I felt good today, actually,” Haren said. “I made one or two mistakes, but overall, I’m ready for the season. It’s monotonous for everybody at this point. I would’ve liked better results, but it’s not going to linger. I’m ready. I’m confident.
“Today, the thing that made me the most angry was the two-out walk (to Adeiny Hechavarria in the fifth) and then I gave up a homer after that. I hung a few pitches. I got into a groove again, kind of like last game, and then just kind of lost it there for a second. But I feel good. I’m ready to go.”
Coming off a season in which he dealt with back and hip issues, Haren considers it a major plus that he made it through an incredibly long spring completely healthy. He hasn’t at all been limited this camp, and feels he’s found a good between-start routine involving a certain amount of stretching and rest.
“I feel really good,” Haren said. “Coming into the spring here, I was most worried about how I would make it health-wise in spring, because spring is actually a lot more grueling than the regular season just because of a lot more day games, drills, you’re hitting, running, doing first-and-third stuff every day. So I was most worried about that. And I feel really good right now, and I’ll get plenty of time between my first start, too. I’m happy.
“Of course, I’d like to go in with a better feeling, but once the lights turn on, it’s a different story.”
That whole aspect of the lights not really being on, so to speak, is something pitchers consistently point to in spring. It’s not easy to replicate meaningful game situations in Grapefruit League competition, many claim, when you’re making two-hour bus rides and pitching in front of fewer than 5,000 people.
Haren had planned on skipping today’s start here in Jupiter and instead throwing back in Viera on the minor league fields, but he opted to make the drive down last night and get his work in against a division rival instead.
“I was going to do a minor league game, but the adrenaline is hard enough to get for these games,” Haren said. “You can’t exactly cut the tension with a knife out there. It’s pretty mellow. A minor league game would be even worse. So I wanted to get some adrenaline. In these games, you kind of have it in the beginning, and as it goes along, it kind of drags a little bit. A big league game is kind of the opposite - you get adrenaline and it gets higher and higher as the game progresses. I didn’t want to have that atmosphere before. I wanted to face big-league hitters and have Kurt (Suzuki) catch me.”
Haren experimented with working inside to right-handed hitters this spring, something he hasn’t done much of in past seasons. Looking back on the spring overall, Haren says he had mixed results coming in to righties, and while he doesn’t plan on making that a frequent part of his arsenal, he feels more comfortable in that aspect than he did entering camp.
The 32-year-old will now have nine days of rest leading up to his first regular season start for the Nationals, which will come April 5 in Cincinnati. He’s not yet sure whether he’ll throw a simulated game leading up to that start or how he’ll go about keeping his arm fresh during the long layoff. But he does know that he wants to get the heck out of Florida after a long spring.
“I’ve never done anything like (a simulated game), but the extra time isn’t the worst thing in the world for everybody,” Haren said. “It’s a long, grueling season, so a couple extra days here and there is not bad. I don’t know how we’re going to play it, but I just know we’re leaving soon, which is good.”
Amen to that.