Haren '1,000 times better' in latest start

Haren '1,000 times better' in latest start
March 21, 2013, 9:45 pm
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- His final pitching line -- four runs and five hits allowed in 5 1/3 innings -- didn't look all that different from his final pitching line the last time he took the mound and felt like he was throwing a weighted ball.

But Dan Haren was far less concerned about the numbers attached to his name this time and far more pleased with the way he pitched against the Braves in his penultimate tune-up of the spring.

"Overall, obviously it was a lot better," the Nationals right-hander said. "I mean, I felt 1,000 times better."

First and foremost, Haren's velocity was back to its normal levels. After heaving up mid-80s fastballs last Friday against the Cardinals while battling what he hoped was a case of dead arm, he regularly threw 89 mph tonight and topped out at 91 mph several times.

Haren also got much better movement out of his pitches, inducing a bunch of awkward-looking swings, broken bats and weak grounders.

"That's the No. 1 thing," he said. "Of course I'd like to go six scoreless. But whatever, if I'm going to give up runs, might as well give them up now. But just getting bad swings from hitters, that tells me my stuff is better. Last time, I needed an L screen out there [for protection from hard-hit comebackers]. It was scary. This time I was getting way better swings, and you could tell a lot by the reaction of the hitters. There were way more broken bats. That's my game."

Haren's outing earned the approval of his manager.

"I think he just got a little better feel of some of his pitches," Davey Johnson said. "He used his offspeed stuff a little bit more. I thought he threw a nice ballgame."

It wasn't all picture-perfect for the 32-year-old. He did get beat around in the bottom of the second, allowing three straight hits to start the inning, including back-to-back doubles by Chris Johnson and Tyler Pastornicky, then later walked Andrelton Simmons on four pitches and served up an RBI single to Reed Johnson on an 0-2 pitch.

And then there was a fifth-inning pitch to Justin Upton that wound up soaring over the 50-foot-high scoreboard in deep left-center, a gargantuan blast that snapped a string of 10 straight batters retired.

"I gave up eight hits, but I feel like -- besides the ball Upton hit that hasn't landed -- it wasn't like I was getting smoked all over the yard," Haren said. "I think there's definitely room for improvement, but it's a step in the right direction for me."

Johnson wound up taking the ball from Haren in mid-inning with his pitch count at 90. The right-hander is scheduled to make one more start this spring (Tuesday against the Marlins in Jupiter) and then will probably throw a simulated game of some type after the team arrives in Washington in advance of Opening Day before he makes his Nationals debut April 5 at Cincinnati.

At this point, after six weeks in camp, Haren just wants to get out of Florida and pitch in a game that actually counts.

"It seems like we've been here forever," he said. "I'm ready to get to D.C. It's just so much better."