Following his last start here at Nationals Park, a win over the Reds on April 27 in which he allowed two runs and struck out five over six innings, Dan Haren said he finally felt like part of the team.
In some ways, it was just a light-hearted comment that made reporters chuckle. In other ways, it was evidence of what Haren has needed to deal with early this season as he tries to adjust to a new team with legitimate World Series aspirations.
Haren came in with a one-year, $13 million contract, billed as the veteran anchor of a young talented rotation. He was expected to be an innings-eater, a guy who could consistently be counted on to work deep into games and lend a hand or offer pieces of advice to the less-experienced starters on the Nats' staff.
But Haren struggled big-time coming out of the gates. He got lit up in his first start of the season and posted an 8.10 ERA and a .388 batting average against over his first three outings. Those numbers and the lack of success started to weigh on him.
"When the losses started piling up for me, I think for anybody, but for me, you press a little bit more," Haren said recently.
That was evident in Haren's mood following his first few starts. You could see the frustration starting to build in the veteran right-hander as he searched for a successful formula only to see more crooked numbers and early departures from his starts.
Haren's found a way to turn the tide, however. He's started throwing more cutters and splitters, and is worrying less about his fastball velocity. He's locating his pitches much better down in the zone and is attacking hitters early in counts, not trying to blow 93 mph fastballs by guys but trusting his movement and letting hitters put the ball in play.
That's led to much better results - a 2-1 record, 2.84 ERA and .235 batting average against over his last three outings.
"I was really down having a couple bad games in a row," Haren said. "I was really down on myself. But now having a couple good ones, I feel better about myself. Like I was telling you guys when I was struggling, I still felt confident going into the game, but definitely I feel even more confident now taking the ball knowing that I've had some success."
The recent success has allowed Haren to relax a bit in the Nats' clubhouse. He's seemed to engage teammates more over the last couple weeks, and says he's more willing to offer friendly pointers to his fellow pitchers now that his numbers are coming back to earth.
"I can't be 0-8 with a 10.00 ERA and telling guys how to pitch," Haren said with a laugh. "It's always easier coming from someone when they're successful."
The main thing is that Haren feels like he's starting to settle in, both on the mound and in a new organization. His effectiveness the last few starts out is a major factor in helping him achieve that.
"There's less of a microscope on me, I think, which is nice," Haren said. "I can just go out and do what I do. The season is so long. I've made six starts, I probably have 26 more or something like that. Like I said after the first start, you're not gonna be defined by the first start. It was bad, and just wash it away.
"But at the end of the year, I'm confident my numbers will be where they usually are, and if they are, the team's going to be in good shape because of the other four guys in the rotation."