Dan Haren will be - and has been - the first to admit that he hasn't thrown the ball well this season.
We've seen Haren's brutal honesty on more than a few occasions this year, and he certainly isn't shy about telling you when he isn't getting the job done or pitching to the level he feels he should.
But Haren was pleasantly surprised with how good he felt yesterday when he threw a bullpen session at Citi Field, his first time toeing the rubber since landing on the disabled last June 23 with inflammation in his right shoulder.
The veteran right-hander has had the last eight days to rest his shoulder, and he also got a cortisone shot in the shoulder last Monday, which the Nationals had hoped would clear up the inflammation in there and allow Haren to throw more freely. Either the rest or the medicine (or both) apparently worked, and indicated to Haren that he might have been more injured than he originally thought.
"When I went on the DL, it really wasn't that bad of a thing," Haren said. "I think it was more precautionary on their side, giving me time to get 100 percent. But I definitely feel the difference. I don't know if it's the time off or getting the shot or a combination of both. But it feels good coming out.
"I don't know if I'll come back throwing 95 (mph), but maybe it'll feel a little better coming out, be a little more crisp. ...
"Maybe there was more going on than I thought, because I really did feel really good. The ball was coming out really good. It was easier to get to throwing 100 percent, where before it was taking like maximum effort to get the ball to the plate."
The plan from here is for Haren to throw a simulated game at Nationals Park on Wednesday. That will allow him to face live hitters and get an even better read of how his shoulder feels and how his stuff is playing.
The Nats will then evaluate Haren from there, but if all goes well in the simulated game, Haren says he could throw a bullpen session a few days later and then possibly be ready to rejoin the rotation sometime before the All-Star break. The earliest Haren could come off the DL is July 8.
One thing Haren says he won't need to do is head on a rehab assignment before coming off the DL. And he's plenty happy about that.
"I did that last year. I did not like that," said Haren, matter-of-factly and with a slight smile on his face. "I don't like those. It's hard to get your adrenaline going and then (minor league hitters are) super aggressive off pitching. The guy would, first pitch of the game, swing. So it's hard to work on anything because they're just so aggressive. But I think a sim game facing live hitters at the field, that would work."
In his 15 starts this season, Haren posted a 6.15 ERA, allowed 19 home runs and has a .888 OPS against, worst among major league starters in all three categories. He's worked seven innings or more just three times this season and has allowed five or more earned runs in a third of his starts.
But the Nats continue to express faith in Haren, feeling he has more in the tank. Haren has a very impressive 5.15 strikeouts for every walk this season, and he's had a handful of really strong starts. The Nats feel he just needs to limit the home runs, improve his location and find a way to avoid his cutter flattening out and sitting over the middle of the plate.
He hopes the rest and the cortisone will allow him to do so.