|Photo by USA Today|
Nationals starter Dan Haren may not have looked much sharper in his second start with the team than he did in his first, but the result was certainly better. The 11-year veteran took the victory in the Nats’ 7-4 win over the Chicago White Sox despite throwing 101 pitches through five innings and allowing three earned runs off ten hits. It wasn’t pretty, but he got the job done.
“Today I took a few steps forward,” Haren said. “I think I threw the ball better than maybe the line score would dictate, but the conditions weren’t great out there. The most important thing is that we won the game. Obviously I did a little better than last time, but I still haven’t been at my best yet.”
Haren fared better than his woeful six-earned run outing in Cincinnati last weekend, but he was nowhere near his best in front of the 24,785 fans at Nationals Park on Thursday night. Haren’s ten hits allowed made him the first Washington pitcher since the Senators’ Casey Cox in 1970 to give up at least nine in their first two games of the season.
Haren began the first inning on a good note with a 19 pitch scoreless frame. He gave up a run in the second on a Tyler Flowers sacrifice fly and then two in the fourth inning off back-to-back RBI singles. Haren didn’t allow any home runs this time, he just wasn’t hitting his spots.
“He’s throwing the ball good,” Davey Johnson said. “He’s got good velocity. That was one thing that was missing last year. But it’s command. It’s all about command, making your pitches. He was up a lot today.”
Haren pitched adequate enough for the win and also had a good day at the plate. Haren smacked a double in the fourth inning to start a rally the Nats would ride to victory.
Haren reached base and was moved to third on a Jayson Werth single to left field. He then came home on a wild pitch thrown past Bryce Harper by Chicago pitcher Dylan Axelrod.
“I didn’t think there would be a scenario where I would be able to come home on a wild pitch, then of course the first pitch went to the backstop and then I was driving home,” Haren said.
“You guys saw my speed which I apologize to Werth I didn’t score on his single, but I probably wouldn’t have scored on a double anyways.”
“I think Stras has been working with him on his baserunning,” Johnson joked. “But, no, I knew he could hit when he came over here. But that was big for him. Wanted to get him a win. Get him on more of a positive note.”
Haren’s run preceded a sequence that opened up the game for the Nats. After Haren crossed the plate, White Sox manager Robin Ventura advised Axelrod to intentionally walk Harper with first base open and Werth on second. Harper had never been given a free pass as a major league hitter, but everyone in the world knows he is swinging a hot bat.
Ventura based the decision on Harper’s recent play, despite Ryan Zimmerman waiting in the on-deck circle.
“You know, Harper’s hot,” Ventura said. “With the swings he was having earlier off of Axe, you’re rolling the dice either way. You just take your chance”
Harper took first with Werth over at second and then both were driven in on a double by Zimmerman. The Nats third baseman lofted one just over the head of a backtracking Alex Rios in right field.
“That’s part of the lineup,” Ventura said. “They make it extremely hard, every time you go around it gets a little harder. Wasn’t able to get through that one.”
Harper was honored to be given the intentional walk and Johnson said it may have given Zimmerman some extra motivation. But Zimmerman said that if he was in Ventura’s situation, he would have done the same thing.
“If I'm the manager I'd rather pitch a righty against a righty instead of a lefty, but obviously Bryce, you don't want to pitch to Bryce right now,” he said.
“I think it was just more of a match-up thing. I wouldn't pitch a righty against Bryce right now either.”
After Haren left the Nats got two innings out of Ryan Mattheus to bridge them into the eighth where Tyler Clippard took over. Rafael Soriano then closed the door in the ninth for his fifth save of the season. He has pitched three consecutive games and six of the team’s nine total so far this season. Johnson acknowledged he may go with Drew Storen in a save situation on Friday against the Braves.
With the White Sox series now in the books, the Nationals (7-2) will enjoy their second home sweep of the year. But now the focus quickly turns to 8-1 Atlanta who come to Nationals Park after a day off. Ross Detwiler will pitch the first game of the season with Julio Teheran on the mound for the Braves.