The Nationals have played two series at home this season. They’ve swept them both.
Tonight’s 7-4 win over the White Sox gave the Nats another three-game sweep at Nats Park and made a winner of Dan Haren for the first time this season.
While Haren allowed 10 hits, hit a batter and threw 101 pitches over five innings, he allowed just three runs and kept his team in the game.
“You know, he’s still not where he wants to be, I’m sure,” manager Davey Johnson said of his starter. “They’ve got a lot of guys that can swing the bat over there. But he’s getting better.”
Johnson was asked if he saw improvement from Haren’s first start this season - when he allowed six runs and four home runs over four innings in a loss to the Reds - to tonight. He responded in the affirmative and said that he feels like this outing could be a nice building block for the veteran right-hander.
“I mean, he’s throwing the ball good,” Johnson said. “He’s got good velocity. That was one thing that was missing last year. But it’s command. It’s all about command, making your pitches. He was up a lot today.”
Haren was able to work his way out of a few jams, and he also helped his own cause with a double to right-center in the fourth inning that started a three-run rally. Haren, who is by no means fleet of foot, took his sweet time moving around the bases.
“I think Stras (Stephen Strasburg) has been working with him on his baserunning,” Johnson quipped. “But, no, I knew he could hit when he came over here. But that was big for him. Wanted to get him a win. Get him on more of a positive note.”
After Haren’s double, Jayson Werth singled, putting runners at the corners with two outs. A wild pitch brought Haren home and moved Werth to second, and then with first base open, White Sox manager Robin Ventura opted to intentionally walk Bryce Harper to get to Ryan Zimmerman.
That move allowed Ventura’s right-handed pitcher, Dylan Axelrod, to face the right-handed-hitting Zimmerman, which took the bat out of the red-hot Harper’s hands. The decision backfired, however, when Zimmerman ripped a two-run double to right, giving the Nats a three-run lead. It was an interesting decision by Ventura, one that ended up working out in the Nats’ favor.
“Well, that’s their decision,” Johnson said when asked about the move. “Harp’s swinging pretty good. I’m glad I don’t have to make those decisions.
“(Ventura’s) pretty big on controlling match-ups late in the ballgame, and that’s what you do. I kind of lean toward giving a guy an opportunity to pitch to him and not give in more than I do putting him on. But I firmly believe in match-ups. So I mean, it doesn’t faze me at all.”
As I mentioned earlier, this was just the second time since the start of the 2010 season that the hitter in front of Zimmerman had been intentionally walked. That only other time, Zimmerman delivered a walk-off home run against the Mets. Tonight, his double provided two key runs.
Johnson was asked whether he felt Zimmerman went into that at-bat with a bit of a chip on his shoulder after seeing Harper given the intentional free pass.
“There’s no question,” Johnson said. “No question. He answered.”
Rafael Soriano closed out this one in the ninth, his third save in as many days. Johnson said he considered going another route and not using Soriano tonight because of the heavy workload early in the season, “but he hasn’t cried ‘uncle’ for me yet.”
Drew Storen didn’t get in tonight’s game after seeing action in the previous two, so he might get the shot at a save tomorrow if the Nats have a lead in the ninth.
“It’s possible, yeah,” Johnson said. “We played nine games, (Soriano’s) been in six of them.”