“I’ve had my share of bad games along with good games,” Haren said. “They’re tough to deal with. But the sooner you forget about it, the better. It’s still a long season. I’ve probably 30-plus more starts left. This start isn’t going to define how this year’s going to go for me.”
For one night, the Nationals’ swagger disintegrated. While Haren spent the majority of his night turning around and looking up, Reds right-hander Homer Bailey dealt for six two-hit innings. The Nationals managed only five hits while striking out seven times. Relievers Zach Duke and Henry Rodriguez turned a rough night at the park into a dumpster fire, the damage culminating with Xavier Paul’s pinch-hit grand slam off Rodriguez to cap a seven-run seventh.
“You just dismiss these,” said first baseman Adam LaRoche, who exited the game with back stiffness. “These are going to happen. I have a feeling we’re going to be on the better side of a lot of these games this year.”
The end turned the final score an eyesore, but the Nationals remained in a tie for the best record in the majors and still had 158 games left to even out their run differential. There was probably only one conclusion that mattered, and it was obvious: Haren, for reasons that extended beyond Friday night, needs to cut down on allowing homers.
The Nationals signed Haren, 32, in December to a one-year, $13 million deal to anchor the back of their rotation. The team’s first three starters allowed one run over 19 innings. In a different stadium against a very different opponent, Haren allowed six runs on nine hits in four innings. He struck out five and walked none, which offered little solace.
“I know I’m better than that,” Haren said. “There’s no use dwelling on it. It’s over with.”
Still, Haren searched for a way to improve. Afterward, he sat at his locker and chatted with catcher Kurt Suzuki. They decided he needed to throw more four-seam fastballs, because his two-seam fastball was running back over the plate too much.
“I know Dan,” Suzuki said. “It’s not him. It’s not who he is. It’s not the type of pitcher he is. He’ll get better.”
The small confines of Great American Ball Park and the sample size of one start made on nine days of rest suggests Haren’s beginning is not necessarily a harbinger, especially since three of the four homers landed in the front row and two were argued. But, given Haren’s homer-laden spring training, the trend is concerning.