ATLANTA - Two nights ago, after an 8-1 Nationals loss, Davey Johnson started his postgame session with reporters by asking whether he really needed to discuss another defeat at the hands of the Braves.
Tonight, Johnson was more than happy to talk about the Nats’ second win over Atlanta in as many nights.
“That was fun,” a smiling Johnson said to open his postgame press conference.
Dan Haren went eight innings, allowing just one run on four hits in what was far and away his best start as a National, and the Nats held on for a 3-1 win. Their second victory in as many nights gives the Nats a split in their four-game series with the Braves and gets them back on the positive side of .500. Their flight to Pittsburgh tonight will be a happy one.
Haren threw just 90 pitches in his eight innings, and outside of a Dan Uggla solo homer, the Braves managed almost nothing off him.
“What a heck of a ballgame Haren pitched,” Johnson said. “It was outstanding. The last couple nights with (Jordan Zimmermann) and then Haren, low pitch counts going late in the ballgame, very few balls hit very hard. He was making his pitches all night, he got the ball a little bit up to Uggla and out over the plate and he got a hold of it, but I didn’t want him to tire out there and give up something late in the ballgame when I had some pretty good guys in the wings.
“He looked a little more tired (in the eighth) from where I was at. When I got out there (to talk to him on the mound), I said, ‘Heck of a ballgame, how you feeling?’ He said, ‘I feel great.’ I said, ‘Good. I’m out of here.’ Outstanding effort. We needed those two wins. It’s been a good trip so far.”
Johnson rarely makes a trip to the mound only to end up leaving a pitcher in the game, but during that visit with Haren with two outs in the eighth, Johnson heard what he needed to hear and marched back to the dugout without needing to hand the ball off to a reliever.
The decision to leave Haren in paid off, as the veteran righty struck out Chris Johnson swinging to end the eighth and leave the potential tying run in the batter’s box.
“I had (Drew) Storen hot but I really liked the way (Haren) was throwing,” Johnson said. “It was just a situation where I wanted to see up close. He looked fresh to me. I liked the look on his face and I stayed with him.”
This is the type of outing the Nats felt confident Haren could deliver, even when he was going through his struggles earlier this season.
“No doubt about it,” Johnson said. “He’s a great guy, great professional and he knows what he’s doing out there. He doesn’t make many mistakes. I think he told us in the spring. He said his arm didn’t really feel good until September and I think he was working in the spring and early in the year just getting to feeling strong, but that’s the kind of ballgame he can pitch and it came at a great time, too.
“They were swinging early in the count which worked right in his favor. What a boost. We had some guys banged up.”
One of those guys is Jayson Werth, who left tonight’s game in the fifth inning when his hamstring tightened up. Johnson said that Werth will likely need a few days off, but the Nats don’t feel he’ll need to land on the disabled list.
“He’s a smart enough player to know that it was very close to pulling and it just got real tight on him,” Johnson said. “I talked to Lee Kuntz our head trainer and he said it’s a pull down at the bottom of the hammy. ... It was my fault. I shouldn’t have played him anyway.”
The Nats will get a boost tomorrow when they activate Ryan Zimmerman from the 15-day DL. Zimmerman’s hamstring has healed to the point that he can return, and the Nats will send Anthony Rendon back to Double-A Harrisburg to make room for Zimmerman on the 25-man roster.
Rendon will travel with the Nats to Pittsburgh and then re-join the Senators. His final game with the Nats (for now) was a good one; the 22-year-old went 2-for-3 with a walk and a run scored.
“He really did a great job,” Johnson said. “Fielded outstanding and got some good base hits. It’s nice. I think he got his average up to .240. I’m sure he can live with that.”
And after the Nats had lost the first two games of this series, I’m sure they can live with a split in Atlanta.