“Almost” has been the story of the Washington Nationals’ (37-37) flirtation with momentum for the past month. Every time they almost string enough wins together to start giving fans a little hope, another unfortunate loss happens and they find themselves sitting back at .500.
This time, the unfortunate loss came at the hands of the Colorado Rockies (38-38), who capitalized on yet another rough outing by Dan Haren to beat the Nationals 7-1 and extinguish the glimmer of hope the Nats had found in their first three-game winning streak since May 10.
Only five pitches into the first inning, Haren handed the Rockies the lead by giving up his league-leading 19th home run to DJ LeMahieu. He proceeded to surrender two doubles and a single before the inning was over, digging the Nationals into an early 3-0 hole.
Haren looked like he was getting his groove back after retiring seven straight hitters before the fourth inning, but then the wheels completely fell off. He gave up a single and a double to start out the fourth, and then seemed to lose the strike zone completely as he threw five balls in seven pitches through two at-bats, including a wild pitch that scored Wilin Rosario and another that hit Josh Rutledge.
Giving up an RBI-single to pitcher Jhoulys Chacin was the final straw, and Davey Johnson pulled Haren from the game after just three and one-third innings, with a final line of seven hits, six earned runs, zero walks, and five strikeouts in 63 pitches, 38 of which were strikes.
Though Johnson was unwilling to speculate on the root of Haren’s problems or what actions may be taken on them, he did express trepidation over the starter’s struggles this season.
“I’m a little concerned about him,” Johnson said. “I’m going to have a talk with him the next time he throws and see if we can’t do something to make things better for him. I don’t want to speculate on what I’m thinking about it right here, but we do have some concern. … There might be something bothering him that I don’t know about.”
Johnson did not say whether Haren would sit out his next start, but if that becomes necessary, Johnson did say he was pleased with the way Ross Ohlendorf has pitched in the two appearances he has made for the Nationals. After taking over for Haren in the fourth, Ohlendorf has surely shown that he is a worthy candidate to fill in for Haren if needed.
Ohlendorf pitched for a total of four and two-thirds innings, striking out four and allowing four hits and one earned run on a Nolan Arendao home run in the eighth inning.
Johnson didn’t go so far as to blame Haren for the loss, but when asked why Chacin was able to stifle the offense so completely he said, “getting behind three runs in the first inning was a big part of it.”
Falling behind so early left the hitters pressing for the comeback, and limited them to six hits and one walk, with the sole run scored on a Ryan Zimmerman home run in the bottom of the ninth.
The Nationals did have men on base in six of Chacin’s seven innings, but failed to start a rally against a pitcher who entered the day with a 4.26 ERA.
Saturday’s game was the 20th time this season the Nationals scored one run or fewer. Their struggles on offense coupled with their inability to count on one of their starters every fifth day is a recipe for a streak breaker, and as July looms on the horizon, the Nationals have still been unable to maintain the momentum required of a would-be postseason contender.