VIERA, Fla. — Dan Haren has no problem imparting some veteran wisdom to the Washington Nationals’ young starting staff, but general manager Mike Rizzo made it clear Monday the team didn’t sign the right-hander just so Stephen Strasburg can pick his brain.
“His value to me is that he’s a capable mid-to-upper rotation starting pitcher,” Rizzo said. “We didn’t get him here and pay him to be a mentor for our starters. We brought him to be a real contributor in the rotation.
“We feel that a healthy Dan Haren is going to revert back to the previous Dan Haren, and that’s what we’re looking for.”
The 32-year-old Haren, who signed a one-year, $13 million contract in December, went 12-13 with a 4.33 ERA last year while dealing with hip and back issues. He went on the disabled list at the All-Star break, missing the first start of his career.
He finished the season having thrown 176.2 innings, breaking a streak of eight consecutive years in which he threw more than 200.
“When you’re not doing good, you realize how bad you want it,” Haren said. “Pitchers who are successful at this level, you’ve got to have that fire in you. You’ve got to be able to get up when you’re down.”
While last year’s struggles have made Haren hungry to come back and show he is still one of the most consistent right-handers in the game, he said the decision to join the Nationals came in large part because of the talent on their roster.
“More than personal goals. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in the playoffs, which was a big reason why I came here — the chance to win,” Haren said.
Haren threw his second bullpen session of the spring Monday and impressed Nationals manager Davey Johnson with his ability to paint both corners with his cutter.
Haren started throwing the cutter around 2008. Though he admitted he can get himself in trouble by going to it too often, it has become quite an effective pitch because it is easy to control and he can throw it in any count.
It’s all part of his Darwin Theory to pitching.
“Over the years, every pitcher has to develop into what they are,” he said. “I’ve been multiple kinds of pitchers in my career. I’ve been a hard thrower, with a little bit less command. Now, my game is more command and keeping hitters off balance.
“Even my repertoire has changed. I used to throw more four-seam fastballs. Now, I throw more two-seam fastballs. Every pitcher has to evolve.”
Haren will be taking the place in the rotation of Edwin Jackson, who also signed a one-year deal in 2012 and ended up serving as the senior voice for a young staff that includes Strasburg (24), Ryan Zimmermann (28), Gio Gonzalez (27) and Ross Detwiler (26).
“He’s definitely a guy that if you need the answers to a quiz or a test, he’s going to give them to you,” Gonzalez said.
While Haren is happy to play that role, he said he’s looking forward to spending time watching the other starting pitchers to see what he can pick up and help him advance his career.
Looking around the Nationals’ locker room, Haren said he sees a bunch of young, talented players mixed in with a few veterans. While he is happy to be with Washington, the Nationals are looking forward to seeing what they can get out of him, too.
“I played with Dan in Arizona, and he’s a gamer,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “He’s got a little attitude about him when he pitches. He’s a guy that, if he doesn’t have it that night, can get creative and grind through some of those outings. … He knows how to win. I love playing behind him.”
(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)