Angels’ Dan Haren keeps Nationals in the dark in 1-0 win
It was as much a shadow-boxing match as it was a pitchers’ duel, a late-afternoon showdown between Angels veteran Dan Haren and Washington youngster Jordan Zimmermann.
Haren won it on points, taking full advantage of the shadows of Wednesday’s 4 p.m. start to give up two hits in 71/3 innings of a 1-0 victory that gave the Angels a three-game interleague sweep of the Nationals.
Haren (8-5) struck out six and walked one, giving up a fourth-inning bunt single that could have been ruled an error and a soft one-out single to center field to Ivan Rodriguez in the eighth inning.
Zimmerman (5-7) went the distance, allowing one unearned run and four hits, striking out four and walking one, but the right-hander with a nasty fastball-slider combination suffered the loss.
“It’s a challenge,” Angels left fielder Vernon Wells said of the hitting conditions. “It’s tough to pick up rotation. You just see a brown spot and hope you can hit it.
“If you can throw strikes, change speeds and move the ball in and out, you’re going to have some success once those shadows roll in.”
The Angels, who have won 12 of 17 games, scored in the fourth inning when Bobby Abreu walked, took third on third baseman Ryan Zimmerman’s throwing error on Wells fielder’s-choice grounder and went home on Howie Kendrick’s double-play grounder.
Haren gave up nine runs and 17 hits in 10 innings of his previous two starts, a loss to the New York Mets and a win over the Dodgers, but he felt better life on his fastball and a little more bite on his split-fingered fastball Wednesday.
He retired the first 10 batters before Brian Bixler bunted for a single in the fourth inning. If third baseman Alberto Callaspo’s off-balance throw had been accurate, Bixler would have been out by several feet, but the throw sailed into foul territory, allowing Bixler to reach second base.
The play was ruled a hit and an error, which was fine with Haren, who has never thrown a no-hitter and preferred to avoid the stress and superstitions of a potential no-hitter in the eighth inning.
“You know what? I was chewing the same piece of gum and wearing the same undershirt for four innings, and it was hot,” Haren said. “So when I gave up the hit, I came right up here and changed.”
The right-hander retired 12 of the next 14 batters, giving up a walk and hitting a batter in the fifth inning, before his 120th pitch of the game was hit for a single by Rodriguez in the eighth.
Manager Mike Scioscia summoned left-hander Scott Downs, who struck out pinch-hitter Jayson Werth looking and got Roger Bernadina to pop out to end the inning.
Jordan Walden, who blew save opportunities in his previous three games, got Bixler to ground out to open the ninth inning. Zimmerman hit a slow roller over the first base bag that snuck into right field for a double.
“I thought, ‘How did that just happen?’ ” Walden said. “A slow grounder right over the bag. He hit it perfect. I had to dig deep and do whatever I could to not let those guys score.”
Matt Stairs grounded out to first base, Zimmerman advancing to third base, and Walden struck out Michael Morse with a 98-mph fastball for his 18th save.
“I was anxious, because it’s hard to forget about three blown saves in a row,” Walden said. “It was nice to have a clean inning.”
Scioscia said he believes the 23-year-old Walden’s recent problems have been about control, not confidence.
“At times, he’s shot himself in the foot with his command,” Scioscia said. “But that was a great bounce-back game for him.”
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