Hearing from Haren and Harper

Entering today’s game, it had been 76 days since Dan Haren was last the winning pitcher in a baseball game.

Some of the blame for that long winless streak doesn’t fall on Haren. A lot of it does.

But Haren has pitched much better since coming off the disabled list on July 8, and today he earned his fifth victory of the season after allowing just one run and three hits over seven innings in a 4-1 Nationals win over the Mets.

“It’s obviously been a long time since I had that winning feeling after a game, so it definitely feels good,” Haren said. “I’ll enjoy it for a day or two and then try to keep the way I’ve been throwing the ball the last couple times, try to keep that going.”

Since returning from the DL, Haren has allowed two runs or fewer in three of his four starts. He’s struck out 26 and walked six in that span and has allowed just two home runs. There might be reasons for the turnaround, but Haren says one of them isn’t his health.

“I feel the same as I did before,” he said. “The DL is just, kind of just let me take a break. Obviously, things had melted up to a point where it couldn’t have really gotten much worse. Physically, I was OK. I was able to rest a little bit. But health-wise, I’ve been fine all year. Definitely isn’t the reason why this year hasn’t gone the way I’ve wanted it to.”

One big factor in his recent success has been location. Haren wasn’t getting away with pitches up in the zone earlier in the season, but he’s been getting more swings and misses on his splitter lately and locating his fastball down in the zone.

“Last game I got a couple pitches up, but the two games prior, I was really working the ball down and today I was just really focused on keeping the ball down,” Haren said. “I threw a bunch of balls in the dirt, Wilson (Ramos) did a nice job out there, and I was just thinking almost every pitch, ‘If I’m going to miss, just miss down.’ I got a lot of good results, my fastball was doing a little bit better, got a few groundballs, so that was really the main focus. ...

“It feels good. Obviously, we’re a few games under .500 and a big reason for that is me, among other guys, but I take a lot of the blame. It feels good having a good game and I want to keep it going and at least finish off the year the way I wanted it to. The guys have been great, really supportive. I feel like they’re playing well behind me, they’ve been really positive and supportive of me. It feels good to finally deliver a good game.”

Haren’s been really tough on himself this season, as you can tell by the second sentence of that last paragraph, but his teammates have stuck by the veteran right-hander and are thrilled to see him get back on track.

“I thought Dan threw great,” Bryce Harper said. “He’s been throwing really well his last couple starts and that was great to see. I think Dan’s an unbelievable teammate, athlete. He’s a great competitor out there. He’s an All-Star. He’s been an All-Star his whole career and it’s exciting to see that today.

“He knows that he’s better than what he was (earlier in the season). He knows that his whole career he’s been so good and he wants to come in and carve, just like every other pitcher wants to come in here and carve. He’s been doing so great when he came off the DL. And it’s exciting to see that, especially in this late push we’re trying to make. I think that’s a huge step towards what we need.”

Harper has seen his power re-emerge a bit in the last few days, as he’s smacked two homers and posted three extra-base hits in his last three starts. Prior to this stretch, he hadn’t homered in his last 18 games.

“I feel pretty good,” Harper said. “I still feel a little out of whack a little bit, but day in and day out trying to get better, work on my swing a little more. And feeling good in that leadoff spot. So hopefully I can keep it going and keep winning ballgames.”

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