Gonzalez gets his shot, Haren gets in-depth about his stuff

VIERA, Fla. - Gio Gonzalez will actually get a chance to put on a Team USA jersey.

For a while there, Team USA looked like it might get bounced from the World Baseball Classic early, failing to make it out of pool play and leaving Gonzalez without an opportunity to pitch in the tournament.

Instead, the Americans made a late comeback against Team Canada yesterday, securing a spot in the second round and giving Gonzalez a chance to take the hill for his country.

The Nationals left-hander will get the start tomorrow night at 8 p.m. against Puerto Rico. The game will take place in Miami, and Gonzalez, a nearby Hialeah, Fla., native, should have plenty of friends and family in attendance.

We're now a month into spring training, meaning reporters have had enough time to start to get to know pretty much all of the new guys in the Nationals' clubhouse. There aren't many this year, which makes that process a little easier.

One guy who I've really enjoyed talking to thus far is Dan Haren, who started yesterday for the Nats in their 2-1 loss to the Tigers.

Haren is incredibly self aware and honest when it comes to his stuff and where he's at in his career. He's clearly a student of the game, loves taking an in-depth look at how he can have more success - even entering his 11th major league season - and while he's a reserved person by nature, he has an incredibly sharp wit.

Asked yesterday if he's pretty much throwing the same stuff now that he has for much of his career, Haren replied in the affirmative, saying that he's working on tweaking his cutter a little bit, "but for the most part it's the same stuff, same slop."

Asked how he feels this Nationals team is different from other squads he's been on in the past, Haren delivered another great self-deprecating line.

"I'm the oldest starting pitcher," Haren quipped. "I throw, by far, the slowest. I'm the second-best hitting pitcher."

Wait a minute, is Haren, a career .223 hitter with two homers in the big leagues, already surrendering the title of batting champion in the Nats' starting rotation to Stephen Strasburg?

"I've seen him in the cage," Haren said. "Strasburg, he's good."

Haren knows that he isn't the pitcher that he was six or seven years ago when he was throwing in the 92-93 mph range (his average fastball velocity last season was 88.5 mph). He understands that his approach has needed to change a bit as his career has progressed and the radar guns are showing his stuff is coming in a few ticks slower.

But Haren feels he now has a firm grasp of how to approach hitters entering his age-32 season. He admits that he tried to overthrow for much of last season, leading to decreased control and an elevated ERA. Haren is working on adjusting his repertoire to give him a bit of an added edge, and he'll keep refining what's gotten him to this point.

If he can keep his fastball in the 89-91 mph range, like it has been thus far early in spring, that'll just be an added bonus.

"People are obsessed with velocity," Haren said. "It's like the game has passed me by, in that sense. You can only name a handful of right-handed starting pitchers that throw under 90 (mph) off the top of your head. Velocity just gives me a little bit more of a margin for error. My game is control, though, so if I'm hitting my spots, whether it's 87 or 90, I'll get the guy out."

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