Detroit Tigers (19-12) at Washington Nationals (18-15)
Time/Place: 4:05 p.m., Nationals Park
SB Nation blog: Federal Baseball
Haren struggled throughout the 2012 season with a wonky back, which limited him to 176 2/3 innings. When he was healthy enough to pitch, his back clearly affected his performance. His 4.33 ERA, 4.24 FIP, 4.00 xFIP, 110 ERA-, and 1.43 home runs allowed per nine innings were all career highs. It even limited his ability to dominate the Tigers; in his lone start against Detroit in 2012, he allowed two runs in 5 2/3 innings. While this may not seem like much, his two starts against Detroit in 2011 were both complete game victories, one a shutout. In 2013, Haren struggled in his first few starts, but has rebounded nicely in his last three. He is coming off his best start of the year, in which he allowed one run on four hits in eight innings against a swing-happy Atlanta Braves offense (Haren only threw 90 pitches).
The reason for Haren's turnaround? He is getting more ground ball outs, which may be a result of him relying on his splitter more often. In his first four starts, Haren threw the splitter just 13.5% of the time, compared to 18.5% of the time in his last couple starts. He is throwing it more often with two strikes, but hasn't racked up a lot of strikeouts this season. His command has improved as well. In his last two starts, he has nine strikeouts to just one walk. The velocity on his cutter seems to have returned to pre-2012 levels, which is a good sign. That has been his best pitch throughout his career, serving as a nice alternative to his two-seam fastball.
The Doug Fister Hit Batter Parade continued in his last start when he nicked Robbie Grossman's toe, sending Fister's HBP count to nine for the season. Still, he worked six shutout innings before the wheels came off in the seventh. Fister allowed four hits in the inning which -- along with an error by Omar Infante -- resulted in three Astros runs before Fister was lifted for Drew Smyly. Fister has been plagued by "that one bad inning" all season long. In each of his six starts, he has only allowed runs in one inning of work.
Remember that whole "don't let Bryce Harper beat you" thing?
Clearly, Anibal Sanchez does not read BYB.
While the bottom of the lineup is still scuffling -- Alex Avila in particular -- I was encouraged by how well the top of the lineup worked the count against Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann last night. Andy Dirks and Jhonny Peralta both reached base twice (though once against Tyler Clippard) but were left stranded by Avila and Infante. Meanwhile, it will be important for Fister to continue his season-long dominance against left-handed hitters today. of the eight Nationals hits from last night's game, seven were from lefties. I expect that Denard Span will continue to terrorize the Tigers with a 3-for-4 day, but limiting those behind him could prove to be the difference.
Haren reverts to 2011 form and the Nats sweep the two game series.