Second Chance To Make a First Impression

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You remember Gio Gonzalez’s first start of last year, right? Who could forget when the charismatic southpaw took the Nationals fan base by storm, delivering seven innings of two-hit, shutout ball, and introduced an adoring crowd to his trademark grin when he delivered his first Major League hit in the home opener? First impressions can go a long way to establishing relationships between players and fan bases.

Dan Haren gets his first shot in front of the home fans tonight.

Dan Haren gets his first shot in front of the home fans tonight.

Except, of course, that wasn’t Gonzalez’s first start as a National. That less-than-memorable occasion actually occurred at the friendly confines of Wrigley Field on April 7, 2012, when he allowed four runs on seven hits, failing to make it out of the fourth inning. Gonzalez’s first outing was quickly overshadowed by the lefty’s success in his initial opportunity in front of the home fans five days later. He used that success to shoot out to a 7-1 start en route to a Major League-best 21 wins and a third-place finish in the National League Cy Young voting.

All of this should provide solace to Dan Haren, who makes his home debut Thursday night in Washington. With three times as many Major League wins (119) and All-Star appearances (three) under his belt as Gonzalez had entering last season, the veteran righty doesn’t have anything to prove. But a return to the form that saw him compile a 2.81 ERA and 41 strikeouts to only five walks over his last eight starts of the 2012 season would go a long way toward further endearing him to the home crowd here in The District.

Haren’s teammates have done everything in their power to set the stage. With Wednesday night’s 5-2 victory over the White Sox, the Nationals moved to 5-0 at home to begin the season and 6-2 overall for the 2013 campaign. The bats continued to deliver, as Ian Desmond led the charge with a trio of extra-base hits. Since suffering their first loss of the year, a shutout last Friday night in Cincinnati, the Nats offense has scored 25 times over the past four contests, plating no less than five runs in each game in support of their pitching staff.

If Haren can accomplish what Gonzalez did last year, Nationals fans will no doubt welcome him with open arms as the newest member of K Street.

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