MIAMI — Mostly alone inside a silent visitors’ clubhouse at Marlins Park Tuesday night, Dan Haren sat facing his locker and stared into the abyss. In the Washington Nationals’ 8-2 loss to the Miami Marlins, Haren was chased before the end of the fifth inning with the Nationals in a seven-run hole.
In his three starts in a Nationals’ uniform, Haren has pitched no more than five innings, and Tuesday night, when a bases-loaded walk to his final batter became his first walk of the season, he threw 93 pitches in 4 1/3 innings of work.
He stared at the wall, perhaps searching for an answer, or a solution. Searching, he admitted at least, for something.
“Something’s got to change on my part,” Haren said. “I’ve got to start getting guys out. It’s not this hard. I’ve done it for 10, 11 years. I feel good enough to get guys out, I just made a few mistakes. I’m just giving up way too many hits and letting way too many runners on base.”
The Nationals’ lost their fourth game in five days Tuesday night — and their third of six losses that could be qualified as a blowout. In that half of their losses, the Nationals have been outscored 30-2.
But it seemed unlikely entering this series that the Marlins would be one of the teams to do it to them. In the season-opening series between the two teams, the Marlins scored one run in 27 innings and the Nationals swept them. Monday night, they beat them 10-3.
Heading into Tuesday night’s game the Marlins had totaled 23 runs all season, an average of 1.8 runs per game.
“Started out tough and ended up tough,” said manager Davey Johnson, who went into the game with a two-man bench with Bryce Harper and Denard Span suffering from a severe stomach virus.
“They’ve got some pretty good hitters over there and they were bound to bust out. Obviously they did. Tomorrow is another day.”
For Haren there will be five “tomorrows” until he gets another chance to prove that his first three outings in a Nationals uniform are not a true reflection of the pitcher that he is, and can still be. Five days to see if his search will lead him anywhere before he faces the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday night at Nationals Park.
“My stuff is there,” Haren said. “I don’t know velocity-wise, whatever. But I feel like the ball’s coming out all right. I’ve learned to pitch with a little less velocity. In 2011 I had a great year and I wasn’t throwing any harder than I’m throwing now, in the American League.
“I probably need to go back and look at that stuff and pitch more like that, whatever I was doing then. But yeah, I’m searching right now. I’m searching for answers. I’m trying in-between starts and I’ve got to get better. I do. I feel worse about it than anybody.”
After his second start, a five-inning outing against the Chicago White Sox in which he allowed three runs but helped break things open with his bat, Haren seemed encouraged by his progress, putting an abysmal debut in his past. He indicated that while he was not necessarily pleased, he saw improvement. His manager agreed.
On Tuesday, it seemed that perhaps he’d been right. And what better cure than the Marlins to get him all the way there? But as Ryan Zimmerman fielded Placido Polanco’s ground ball to his left and threw to first base in the fourth inning, he pulled Adam LaRoche off the first base bag.
Zimmerman’s fourth throwing error in the last five games halted any kind of a run Haren was on.
Two singles followed. And a three-run homer by Adeiny Hechevarria, on and 85-mph splitter — which Haren called “probably the worst pitch I threw all day,” — gave the Marlins more runs than they would need. Haren also expended 34 pitches in the frame, and used 53 from the start of the fourth until his night was ended four batters into the fifth.
“I just could never get a hold of it,” Haren said, though only three of the runs he allowed were earned.
“Starting off the (fifth) inning with a couple singles, I just ran out of gas. I mean, I’m throwing 100 pitches in five innings. That’s a lot of work. Like I said before, it’s not this hard. I’ve thrown 100-pitch complete games. Not five innings, 100 pitches. It’s too hard to do.”
Haren, who has thrown two complete games in 100 pitches or fewer and four in 110 pitches or fewer, refused to use Zimmerman’s error as an excuse. Instead he put the onus on himself to pick his third baseman up the same way the defense does for him, and not allow the inning to spiral the way it did.
Johnson agreed, saying “If we do what we’re capable of doing around an error, that doesn’t ever happen.”
Zimmerman still took responsibility for it, admitting he’s confounded by the recent string of errors and even asking teammates in the dugout if they’ve seen anything different lately.
“Nobody’s more frustrated than me,” Zimmerman said. “I’m the guy out there that doesn’t want to do it more than anyone. Danny’s rolling along and throwing the ball well, and I’ve got to get the ball and throw it. I feel like I throw it fine. It’s frustrating for me.”
The Nationals’ offense didn’t help either, putting together one multi-hit inning in which they scored two runs in the sixth. By then, they were meaningless without more behind them, and there were no more.
After Haren spoke with reporters and a teammate or two, he returned to his spot in front of his locker. He sat for a while longer in his Nationals’ shorts and a t-shirt. He began to put on his street clothes but then stopped and sat down again. Eventually, he made his way toward the clubhouse exit.
“I don’t think it’s easy for any pitcher to walk onto this team and say: ‘I’m going to be better than the four guys you’ve already got,’” said shortstop Ian Desmond. “It’s not an easy team for a pitcher to come in and feel like you’re one of the guys, when you’ve got everybody else throwing 98 mph with five pitches.
“I don’t think he sees his value. He battled. He’s battled all year for us. He obviously hasn’t hit his stride yet, but what he’s doing, the way he’s handling himself, is something for our other guys to learn from… He’s going out there and he’s grinding. He’ll probably finish with 15 wins at the end of the season.”