Over his first four outings this season, Dan Haren had failed to record an out in the sixth and had surrendered 32 hits and four walks over 18 1/3 mediocre innings.
This afternoon, Haren turned things around, holding the dangerous Reds at bay. The veteran righty allowed two runs on six hits over six strong innings, walking none and striking out five.
"That was more like him," manager Davey Johnson said. "Just like what we were talking about before, he was still throwing with plenty of velocity, he just changes speeds, moves the ball around. Pitches. That's what he did today, which was nice to see."
Haren was also working down in the zone much more today, making it tougher for the potent Reds hitters to get the barrel to the ball.
"Much better. Much better," Johnson said. "And when he's like that, he's tough."
Haren had been pretty down on himself after his last few outings, feeling like he owed the team more than he was delivering. Even though it's just April 27, this was a big start for Haren in a way. It should allow him to settle in and continue to grow his confidence.
"Some other (starters) have started out with a couple bad ones and come back, and he needed the same thing," Johnson said. "That club is a good-hitting club. And you've got to make pitches. He made good pitches. I was impressed. That's a good start."
Denard Span made two tremendous grabs today, both of which saved runs that could've flipped the game in the Reds' direction. In the sixth, the Nats' center fielder tracked down Joey Votto's deep drive to left-center and made a leaping grab at the wall, robbing Votto of extra bases. In the seventh, with the bases loaded and two outs with the Nats leading by three, Span had to sprint towards the left-center gap to snare a line drive off the bat of Zack Cozart.
If the ball gets down, there's a good chance three Reds come across the plate, tying the game. Instead, Span tracked down the liner, making a fantastic running grab to keep the Nats on top.
"I didn't think he had a chance to catch up to the ball," Johnson said. "He outran it. When he hit it, I thought that might score three. And he outran the ball. It was great.
"He covers a lot of ground easy out there. He's fun to watch."
Bryce Harper had already set the Nationals' record for most home runs in April two nights ago, but he added another longball this afternoon, giving him nine on the season. He also added two more RBIs, giving him 18 and breaking the Nats' record for most runs driven in during the month of April, as well.
There are still three games remaining before the month is over, by the way.
"If you know him, it's not (surprising), because he probably expects that he's having an off year," Johnson said. "I talked to him last year, and even through the bad times, he had a great frame of mind. He expects a lot of himself. That's a great trait."
Things got tight late, as the Reds brought the tying run to the plate in both the seventh and eighth innings. Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen both put two runners on before getting out of their respective jams. Johnson said the back-end of the bullpen hasn't been as consistent as he'd like, but when you have starters working eight and nine innings, relievers won't get their normal amount of work and their stuff might suffer.
"Clip I don't think has pitched in three or four days and all of them out there, they need regular work," Johnson said. "Ideally, I don't want to use Clip and Storen on the same day. Ideally, I want to separate them and have them pitch the eighth or the ninth. When there's long times that I don't go to those guys, it affects their performance, and they get a little out of sync. But I like the way the bullpen's shaping up. Henry (Rodriguez is) throwing good. (Zach) Duke threw the ball good today. I really didn't wanna take him out, but I didn't like the matchup with a sinkerball to a low-ball hitter. But we're getting there. It's just always a work in progress."
The Nats were by no means getting worried during their recent losing streak, but the mood in their clubhouse has changed a good bit over the last few days. That's what three wins will do for you.
"Well, that's the way it goes," Johnson said. "I'm used to it, almost."