Haren on his final start, Tracy on his big night

PHOENIX - The first half of Dan Haren's season was awful. He had a 6.15 ERA and led the majors in home runs allowed through 15 starts.

But man, did Haren turn things around in a pretty big way.

After throwing seven scoreless innings in tonight's 2-0 Nationals win, Haren's ERA over his final 15 starts of the season is a strong 3.29, he has a 1.05 WHIP and he allowed just nine homers through 87 2/3 innings.

In his mind, the strong finish in no way overcomes the first three months, but he says it was nice to go into the offseason on a positive note.

"I wanted the game," Haren said. "Davey (Johnson) wanted it bad. We've got all our starters in there. No use going out there just giving a half-hearted effort. I felt great out there. I'm happy with the way I finished out for me. Obviously, team-wise, we just didn't meet our expectations. I think overall this team built a lot of character this year. I know I probably won't be a part of it next year, but we're going to be ... the Nationals will be a scary team next year.

"Nobody wanted to play us this year. If we got in, we'd be the team to beat. The talent is there for next year, and this organization is in a good place."

Haren wraps up his season with a 10-14 record and 4.67 ERA in 169 2/3 innings. He allowed a whopping 28 homers, which were really his downfall, and now will head to free agency, where he'll probably end up with his sixth different organization.

"I can't believe that it's over," Haren said of his season. "It seems like yesterday I was flying to D.C. and getting a tour of the facility with Rizz (general manager Mike Rizzo). Here we are 10 months later, and I'll probably take off the Nats uniform for the last time tomorrow. It happened fast. Things go quick. Sad, a little bit.

"I feel like I'm proud of the way I turned it around. But like I told you guys all year, I really beat myself up about it during the first half. Just that really, really bad stretch of starts I had. It's been a really tough emotional mental year for me. Physically I actually made it through the year great. I made 30 starts. I was on the DL for a little while, but it was fake. Physically I felt fine, but the mental side of it just crushed me this year.

"I'm happy with the way I finished up, but I'll still always have that guilt of the way it started and the expectations that were not met for the team."

Haren said getting to 10 wins didn't really mean that much to him ("Having a goal of winning 10 games is like a hitter having a goal of hitting .250," Haren joked), but he does take pride in again making 30 starts in a season. It's the eighth time he's reached that mark.

As for Johnson now being guaranteed to finish at least 300 games over .500 for his managerial career, Haren said it was something the Nats were happy to help deliver.

"I think he was, honestly I think he was using it just as a motivation," Haren said. "I don't think we played very good in St. Louis, and he didn't want us going out and losing six in a row just because we got knocked out of the race. I don't know if he really cares about it that much, but it's a pretty cool accomplishment.

"We wanted to win the games and we're playing our starters out there so, tomorrow, I don't know, but at least we got it for him today. I know he had his 'Win one for the Gipper' thing yesterday. So I guess we won two for the Gipper."

Chad Tracy, like Haren, is a former Diamondback, and like Haren, he had a big day. Tracy filled in for Adam LaRoche, who was a late scratch due to left biceps tendinits, and had two hits, including a solo homer in the seventh. Like Haren, it allows him to finish off a tough season on a positive note.

"Anytime when you have a game like tonight, it feels good, regardless of when it is," Tracy said. "To finish out on a good note is always good."

Tracy has had a rough season statistically, moving to a slash line of .202/.243/.326 with today's effort, but he feels limited playing time was a major factor in those numbers.

"It's tough getting one at-bat off the closer every third or fourth night," he said. "It's tough. You guys have never been in the box against a closer in the ninth with the game on the line, with no at-bats in two or three days. You're going to try to battle and put the ball in the play and put it on the barrel. You get to string a few at-bats together, you get a little timing, you get to see pitches. That's just the way the game is."

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