Phil Wood: It's too early to make a judgment on Nationals' Dan Haren

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Sports,MLB,Nationals,Phil Wood

When the Nationals opted not to make right-hander Edwin Jackson a qualifying offer of $13.3 million for 2013, it meant three things: First, they knew he really wanted a multiyear deal and weren't prepared to offer him one. Second, if he accepted their offer, he might not be any better than he was in 2102. And lastly, it meant giving up a shot at any compensation they could receive if he signed elsewhere.

Jackson arrived in Washington as a .500 career pitcher with a four-plus ERA. He left nearly the same way, going 11-12 with a 4.03 ERA. For that same $13 million, the Nats felt they could do better. They settled on free agent Dan Haren, formerly of the Angels, who had turned in a similar 12-13 record and 4.33 ERA in 2012 but had finished seventh in Cy Young voting in 2011 when he was 16-10 with a 3.17 ERA in 34 starts.

Signing Haren made sense. He is three years older than Jackson and has pitched on the front line of several staffs during his 10-year career up to that point. He has postseason experience, too, which made him a perfect mentor for the young Nats staff. He was also a former power arm who had topped 200 innings seven times, including a career-high 238 in 2011.

The great fastball, alas, had gotten away from Haren the last couple of years, but virtually every baseball insider said he had made the adjustment and was still a savvy veteran who knew how to pitch.

His Nats experience thus far has been something less than sparkling, but in all fairness, it's a pretty small sample size. He made six starts in spring training, allowing 30 hits (seven home runs) in a shade over 25 innings, but if you've been to Viera, Fla., you already know that power stats are somewhat inflated by the stiff breezes that blow every day.

Haren was installed as the No. 4 starter ahead of Ross Detwiler -- a move I'm convinced was made so Washington could throw two lefties against the Braves in that first series -- and his first three starts are perplexing. He has allowed 26 hits (five home runs) in 131Ú3 innings but has 12 strikeouts and just a single walk. He's throwing strikes, but he has allowed opponents to hit .388 off him. Not a lot of swings and misses.

Yes, it's a small sample size, but a club that is expected to return to the postseason has to be hoping for a quick turnaround. His rotation spot is not in jeopardy at the moment, but I have to believe that by early May, the ballclub may start to consider other options. One pro scout I spoke with last week said Haren's issue this year may be health-related

"His fastball is quicker than last year, but it just sits there," he said. "It's got no life, no movement. He may need to take a couple of starts off."

Haren faces the Cardinals this week. Nats fans have their fingers crossed.

Examiner columnist Phil Wood co-hosts the "Mid-Atlantic Sports Report" and is a regular contributor to "Nats Xtra" on MASN. Contact him at philwood@washingtonexaminer.com.

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