Johnson on Haren’s turnaround, offensive breakthrough

The happy moments have been few and far between for the Nationals lately, but tonight was a chance to revel in an offensive explosion and another stellar outing from a well-liked guy who has completely turned his season around in the last month.

The Nats pounded out nine runs on 12 hits in tonight’s 9-2 win over the Phillies, and they got seven innings of two-run ball from Dan Haren, who has a 2.43 ERA in six starts off the DL.

“Well that’s more like it. I can sleep now,” Davey Johnson said as he plopped down in his chair for his postgame press conference. “Haren was outstanding. After the break, he’s pitched quality ballgames pretty much every time out. He still had a little left in the tank, too. Could’ve probably given me another one. But it was an outstanding effort.”

What’s been the difference lately for Haren? The biggest factor, the Nats say, is location. Haren has allowed just two homers since coming off the DL, this from a guy who had surrendered 19 homers in his first 16 starts.

“His command and he gets ahead,” Johnson said. “He’s got a big difference in his split, like 81, 82. His cutter’s got more life to it, and he’s locating it real well, whether he’s back-dooring it or coming in. Just fun to watch.

“I think he did have a little bit of arm problems in the first half. But he’s a tough cookie and pitched through it. But even the catcher says ball’s coming out real good, whereas in the first half the cutter was just barely moving. He’s just a lot sharper. His rhythm’s a lot better, too.”

The Nationals have had major issues against left-handed pitching this season, but tonight, they teed off on John Lannan, who had stymied his former team in two previous starts against the Nats this season.

Adam LaRoche and Denard Span, who both have really struggled against southpaws, combined to record three hits and three RBIs in the win.

“Both the left-handers got on and made baserunning mistakes. It was because they haven’t been out there in forever,” Johnson said with a laugh. “And they got excited, Span and Rochie. I’ve talked to them. They see the ball. They just are not going after pitches they should be hitting. Span hit the ball on the button three or four times. Didn’t have much to show for it, but he’s been swinging it a lot better.

“I’m gonna stay ... that’s more the lineup that I envisioned having. But being more successful against left-handers has really been the difference.”

Lannan tied his career high by allowing eight runs in five innings of work. He walked five and was constantly behind in counts.

“He can be wild early and he was consistently trying to make too good of pitches, and when he does that, he gets behind and you can get hurt,” Johnson said. “He had a decent curveball, but we were helping him out. A lot of them were not strikes. The left-handers were. But when you make him throw it over, you can get after him. But that was one of his worst games this year, I’m sure. But he pitched behind on everybody.”

Johnson was asked whether yesterday’s off day was big for the Nats, giving them a chance to get refreshed, clear their minds and come back ready to go today. The skipper smiled.

“I mean, when you get a good-pitched game and you hit the ball, it looks like you’re pretty good and you’re relaxed, and when you don’t get no hits and your pitching’s bad, you look terrible,” he said. “What’d we end up with - 11, 12 hits or something? We hit the ball on the nose. We could’ve had more hits. We hit balls hard at people. When you do that, everybody’s feeling good. Can’t wait to get up there.

“Hopefully we can start getting that good feeling, that nice and relaxed feeling more, and keep it going for a couple months.”

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