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Dan Haren signed a one-year, $13 million contract with the Nationals last month.
A midseason bout of back spasms and a lingering hip issue, though, scared off plenty of teams and left Haren to settle for a one-year, $13 million contract with the Nationals. Which could prove to be a steal if the right-hander pitches as well as he insists he can, his confidence bolstered by positive bullpen sessions over the last few weeks.
"I feel great," he said Saturday at NatsFest. "I threw a bullpen yesterday, actually, before I flew out. I felt really good. I feel strong. ... I don't want to go crazy. But I'm going to be 100 percent ready to go from the get-go this spring. Physically I feel really good."
Despite skepticism from some other clubs originally interested in his services, Haren has never worried about his ability to bounce back from his worst season in the big leagues (12-13, 4.33 ERA). The back spasms that briefly landed him on the disabled list in July never came back. And the ongoing hip issue has never forced him to miss a start in a 10-year career.
Haren, 32, pointed in particular to his strong finish to 2012 with the Angels. Over his final eight starts, he posted a 2.81 ERA, 41 strikeouts and only five walks. He already owns the fifth-best strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.0127) of any pitcher to ever throw more than 1,000 major-league innings.
"In September, I felt great. I remember the last game of the year I had in Seattle. I think I lost it -- he did, giving up three earned runs in six innings -- but I felt better that game than I did in some points in April. I expect to come out and feel 100 percent. There's really no roadblocks I need to cross. When I'm throwing my bullpens now, there's nothing in the back of my mind."
If Haren can stay healthy and recapture the form that made him a three-time All-Star, the Nationals could have themselves the best No. 4 starter in baseball.
"He could be a No. 1 anywhere," rotation mate Ross Detwiler said. "They're just trying to put together the best staff in baseball, and I think they really have. I think it's a great sign."
Perhaps the only member of the staff who might not be ecstatic over the addition of Haren is Stephen Strasburg, though not for any reason having to do with the act of pitching.
"I think Strasburg might have [soiled] himself a little bit because he's going to have some competition for the batting title," Detwiler joked.
Strasburg hit .277 with a homer, seven RBI and five extra-base hits last season, earning the Silver Slugger Award among all NL pitchers.
Haren, meanwhile, sports a career .223 batting average, second only to Carlos Zambrano among all active pitchers.