The tweaks led to an indeterminate conclusion in the Nationals’ 3-2 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Haren flirted with disaster in a two-run first inning, then dodged trouble long enough to finish his five-inning start with four scoreless frames. He lasted 95 pitches and took his 10th loss, but his manager found enough to be encouraged.
“He threw the ball very well,” Davey Johnson said. “I was pleased with his command. I was pleased with his stuff. He threw a lot of pitches, and that’s the only reason I didn’t let him go back out there, but he threw the ball really good. I’m glad to have him back.”
Haren’s return was overshadowed by former National John Lannan, whose sinker silenced the Nationals’ suddenly streaking lineup for eight scoreless innings and halted their winning streak at four, even after the Nationals’ frenzied ninth-inning rally.
Haren had been one of the majors’ least-supported pitchers when he went on the disabled list 15 days ago, and that much stayed the same. Lannan nearly handed the Nationals their 10th shutout of the season, splashing cold water over an offense that had scored 56 runs over its previous eight games.
“I feel like I just beat my head against the door for three hours,” said shortstop Ian Desmond, who went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts.
Once Lannan exited, the Nationals bullied closer Jonathan Papelbon, whom they had twice come back on during their June series in Philadelphia. Bryce Harper led off the ninth inning with a single. Ryan Zimmerman smashed a double off the right-center field wall. After walking to the plate drenched in customary boos, Jayson Werth smashed a deep drive to center field.
“He hit the heck out of it,” Johnson said. “I was hoping.”
But center fielder Ben Revere tracked the ball down on the warning track, just in front of the 398-foot sign. Harper dashed home. As Werth walked back into the dugout, he slammed his helmet off the ground. The game-tying homer had turned into a sacrifice fly. Adam LaRoche provided another sac fly, but the Nationals’ rally died when Chad Tracy followed with another flyout.
Whatever the result Monday night, the Nationals’ most pressing issue remained whether Haren can solidify the uncertain back of their rotation. With Ross Detwiler on the disabled list and a rookie from Class AA, Taylor Jordan, holding one rotation spot, the Nationals’ $13 million right-hander has become a hinge. Can the Nationals rely on him after a cortisone shot and rest? Or is he the same starter who compiled a league-high 6.15 ERA before he landed on the disabled list?