ATLANTA - After four starts to begin the season that ranged from average to ugly, Dan Haren might be turning a corner.
Haren has been tremendous tonight, throwing seven frames of one-run ball against the Braves, allowing just three hits and striking out three.
Perhaps even more remarkable than the pitching line has been Haren’s efficiency. He’s needed just 69 pitches to get through his seven innings of work, and 47 of those pitches have been strikes.
That’s an average of 9.9 pitches per inning, this from a guy who averaged 20.2 pitches per inning over his first four starts of the season.
Haren’s lone blemish tonight came on a Dan Uggla solo homer with two outs in the seventh.
Prior to that Uggla homer, the Nationals had held the Braves scoreless for 18 innings, dating back to Tuesday night’s loss.
Haren took a definite step forward his last time out, holding the Reds to two runs over six innings. He threw 88 pitches over those six frames and had much improved location over the prior four starts. He appears to have built on that outing tonight.
The Uggla homer cut the Nats’ lead to 3-1.
Haren talked throughout the spring and first month of the season about how even at 32, he still views himself as a workhorse, a guy that can work deep into games and give the bullpen a rest.
He’s done just that tonight. Now the Nats just need six more outs to leave Atlanta with a split of the four-game set.
Update: This is the type of outing the Nats envisioned getting from Haren when they signed him to a one-year, $13 million deal this offseason.
Haren is done after eight innings of work, having allowed just one earned run on four hits. He walked one, struck out four and threw just 90 pitches (62 strikes) on the night.
His outing ended with a strikeout of Chris Johnson, who was representing the tying run at the plate.
Manager Davey Johnson came out to the mound with two outs in the eighth and Johnson coming up and looked to give Haren a bit of a pep-talk. Whatever was said worked, as Haren needed just four pitches to punch out Johnson to end the inning.
Rafael Soriano will have at least a two-run lead to work with in the ninth, as he guns for his ninth save.
Update II: Soriano set down the Braves in the ninth, and the Nationals wrap up their four-game series with the Braves by taking a 3-1 win.
After dropping the first two games of this set, the Nats bounced back to take the final two behind two fantastic pitching performances from Haren and Jordan Zimmermann, who combined to allow one run over 16 innings.
Haren went eight innings for the first time since last May 24 and improves to 3-3 on the season. The Nats will leave Atlanta with a 15-14 record and are 2 1/2 games back of the Braves in the division.