“I was dumbfounded,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “He had a low pitch count. I was thinking, ‘Boy he’s going to go seven, eight innings the way he is throwing.’ Then it seemed he started leaving the ball up and not hitting his spots.”
In hitter-friendly Coors Field, the Nationals’ meager offense produced two early runs against right-hander Jhoulys Chacin and then slept for the next five innings. Haren allowed a game-tying two run homer to Tyler Colvin in the fifth inning and five batters later coughed up a critical three-run, opposite-field shot to slugger Carlos Gonzalez. No other pitcher in the major leagues has allowed as many home runs as Haren’s 17. Behind his struggles, the Nationals dropped under .500 for the fifth time.
Haren has proclaimed he is healthy, and his improved velocity from his injured 2012 season is prime evidence. He has wracked his mind trying to find reasons why he can pitch well for stretches and then collapse the next. His season is confounding.
“I’m getting strikeouts when I need it, for the most part,” Haren said. “Not quite like I used to. Command-wise, I’m not walking guys. I just can’t keep the ball in the ballpark. That’s what it comes down to. Good hitters, too, they’re going to make me pay for my mistakes. I’ve never had so much trouble with homers in my career. I gotta really focus on keeping the ball down. I’m trying to do the best I can. But nothing is really working for me right now.”
At 32 years old and after 1,9491
3 innings on his arm, he still appears to possess the stuff needed to pitch in the majors. A sharp observer of baseball, Haren has learned to pitch with less velocity and thrive. Entering Tuesday’s game, his 5.89 strikeouts-to-walks ratio was fourth best in the majors — a sign that his control and stuff are still successful.
“He’s still very capable,” Johnson said. “We’ve got a long way to go.”
But he is coughing up too many hits (11 per nine innings) and too many of those result in home runs (two per nine innings). So far this season, 63 percent of the 46 earned runs he has allowed have come on home runs. When Haren gets hit, the damage has been big.
Haren is averaging only 5.5 innings per outing, the lowest of his career. He also has been hurt by the lowest run support of any starter on the staff, nearly 2.7 runs per game. The Nationals are 4-9 in games Haren starts, the worst winning percentage of any of the team’s starters.