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Following last night's outing against the Phillies, Haren was left to search for positives in a six-inning, four-run start that was by no means his worst of the season but still fell far short of the kind of performance the Nationals needed.
"I tried to keep my head in the game a little bit better than I have been," he said. "I was able to get six innings, which is better than five. Obviously, still room for improvement. I wish I'd given the team more."
Haren hasn't given the Nationals much through the season's first 2 1/2 months. He's 4-8 with a 5.72 ERA in 14 starts, only five of them "quality starts." He's allowed an MLB-high 18 home runs, including a towering blast by Ryan Howard last night. He's put 115 men on base in only 78 2/3 innings. And, perhaps most disturbingly, he's averaging only 5.6 innings per start, a full inning less than his career average entering this season.
Perhaps most notable about last night's start: Haren felt he needed to try a different approach, one that doesn't mirror his typical pitching style.
Recognizing that opposing hitters have been making solid contact off him all season, the usually control-minded right-hander decided to pitch more to the corners of the strike zone than over the plate. The end result: A season-high three walks from a guy who even as he's struggled this year still had kept the free passes to his typical minimum.
Afterward, Haren seemed to question his own strategy. Not to mention make a subtle reference to his teammates' inability to score runs this year.
"My game isn't walking guys," he said. "My game isn’t nibbling around the zone. My game is attacking hitters. The runs have been somewhat of a premium. ... I can't buy a break, and I've obviously made my share of mistakes. Just not a good combination."
With each successive start, Haren's season spirals further out of control. Now he has to fight the urge to try to salvage everything in one appearance.
"I'm confident coming into every game," he insisted. "I mean, I'm not just saying that. It's no secret I haven't done my job up to this point. But confidence isn't the issue. I've been good for so long, I believe in myself. I just gotta look at the small picture and not the big picture and try to take every game as it comes. I'm not going to try to be 15-10. I'm trying to win just the game and go from there."
Can the Nationals afford to keep giving Haren, who signed for $13 million in December, the opportunity to get on track? There aren't really any obviously appealing alternatives, with the likes of Ross Ohlendorf, Nate Karns and Danny Rosenbaum next in line to join the rotation should something happen.
For now, the club says it will stick with Haren.
"We have a lot of faith in him," manager Davey Johnson said. "He'll be fine."