LAKELAND, Fla. - Even pitchers entering their 11th major league season come into spring training looking to add to their repertoire.
Dan Haren is by far the most accomplished pitcher in the Nationals' rotation, with 119 career wins and three All-Star Games on his resume. He holds the fifth-best strikeout-to-walk ratio in major league history. But that doesn't mean that he isn't trying to add a new wrinkle or give hitters a different look.
That's why he's made working the inside part of the plate to right-handed hitters a focus this spring.
Haren admits that he stayed away from the inner half to righties in past years, but in doing some self-evaluation, decided that he was going to work on coming in more during spring training. It's something that's a work in progress for the 32-year-old, but he felt good about how he was working the inside part of the plate to righties today.
"I gave up a hit today to (Jhonny) Peralta, but it's just something I've got to work on, focus on," Haren said. "I got a couple outs against Torii (Hunter) with it. I've just been stubborn in the past, just stay away to righties, but now's the time, if any, to work on that because the results really don't matter. But I've been getting in there pretty good. Wilson (Ramos) likes to call it inside, too. I've noticed that he likes to call fastballs inside, so threw quite a few today.
"There would be games (in past seasons) that would go by where I wouldn't throw anything inside to righties. So, yeah, it's a matter of keeping hitters honest, too. Being able to work both sides of the plate. Like I said, I was just stubborn in the past. I felt like I'd want them to beat me out over the plate, but I was getting beat out over the plate. So I had to just make adjustments. I came into spring - if there's any time to work on something, it's now."
Having a little bit of confidence in something in spring training is one thing. Having confidence enough in that aspect of your game to use it in regular season games is something else entirely.
Haren will continue to work on coming in to righties over the final three weeks of spring, and depending on what he sees from batters, he'll determine how much he wants to be working inside on righties during games of actual consequence.
"You judge by the way hitters react, really," Haren said. "For the most part, I feel like it's opening up the outside part of the plate for me a little bit. Just if you move guys' feet, it always helps. If you move a batter's feet in that at-bat, a lot of times you're going to have success. So it's just about making hitters uncomfortable, really."
Haren threw 61 pitches today, and got through four solid innings of work. Despite back and hip issues that nagged at him a bit last season, Haren says he feels strong and healthy this spring. He's been spending more time in the training room in between starts to prep for his mound work, but doesn't feel anything is holding him back from a health perspective.
"Physically, I feel really good now," he said. "The ball's coming out of my hand really good, almost as good as it did at any point last year. I still haven't necessarily gone 100 percent effort, but the ball seems to be getting on hitters a little bit better."