With his patented brutally honest perspective, however, Haren couldn’t help but take a jab at himself when discussing his outing with reporters after the game.
“It sucks it’s taken so long to have a good outing, but I finally feel like part of the team,” Haren said. “I’ve got to be like this or better the rest of the year. There’s no excuse for me not to be. I’m happy with the way it went. I’m not going to get too overblown about it. It’s just one start. I think I’ve been throwing the ball a little bit better as the year’s gone on.”
So what was different today?
“Nothing,” Haren said. “I actually felt terrible in the bullpen for the first time all year. I got in a groove in the middle innings. I started feeling good in the second, third inning. But it’s really not as much different as people would think. I didn’t make any drastic change to delivery or what I’m throwing. My split was good. I got a few strikeouts. A couple good double plays.
“When you don’t have your best stuff in the bullpen prior to the game, it kind of locks you in a little bit. It really makes you hit your spots. No walks today, which is always good.”
Haren threw first-pitch strikes to five of the first six hitters he faced this afternoon, allowing him to get ahead in counts early on and get into a rhythm. He watched Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann attack the Reds’ hitters the last two nights and tried to do the same himself this afternoon.
The veteran righty couldn’t quite match the two one-hit outings put up by Gonzalez and Zimmermann, however.
“I was kinda disappointed when I gave up the second hit today,” Haren deadpanned.
Haren has tried to stay positive during his rough start to the season, but it hasn’t been easy. This performance should help.
“I’ve been waiting a long time to have a good start,” Haren said. “My confidence has been building ever since the first game, getting pounded in Cincinnati. From then on, my confidence has gotten better and better, more and more. Today, I know I’ll feel good coming into the next start. When I took the ball today, I felt like I was going to win.”
Haren got a big assist from Denard Span in the sixth inning when Span made a leaping grab of Joey Votto’s deep fly ball to the wall in left-center. An inning later, Span robbed Zack Cozart, who ripped a liner into the gap that Span tracked down to end the inning and leave the bases loaded.
“He covers so much ground out there,” Haren said. “If the ball falls, it’s probably a tie game. He saved four or five runs today.”
Span got a standing ovation from the Nats Park crowd after each catch.
“I got a great jump on both of those balls,” Span said. “Votto, I was already playing deep, I was respecting his power. I’m not sure if the ball would have went over (the fence), but I was prepared to bring it back if it did go out. The other ball, the Cozart ball, that was my favorite out of the two today because I was shading him over to the opposite field. He lined it in the left-center gap and that’s just fun for me to go out there and run and show my speed and grab the ball like that in the gap.”
Span actually had been having a little trouble making plays at the wall recently. He was unable to bring in two such fly balls during the Nats’ recent series against the Cardinals, and so he went out to catch some fly balls hit by outfield instructor Tony Tarasco before Thursday’s game in order to improve his familiarity with the warning track and wall at Nats Park. The extra work paid off.
“I’d rather (make a game-saving catch) any day of the week just to help my pitchers,” Span said. “I feel like I’m a defender first, and that usually picks me up offensively.”
Tarasco refused to take any of the credit for the work that he put in with Span, saying the center fielder’s raw ability was what made the difference. Formerly a major league outfielder himself, Tarasco clearly is enamored with the skill-set that Span brings to the table.
“He’s so tenacious about his defense and he’s got an attitude where he’s so sound,” Tarasco said. “He’s not flashy. He’s such a sound outfielder. ... It’s a combination of his positioning, the way he reads hitters, the way he reads his own pitchers. He closes ground on balls, balls that you don’t think some guys are going to get to. His jumps are outstanding. Once he gets into stride, it’s like he skips after the baseball.
“He just wanted the baseball today. He caught them (expletive) balls today.”