The Washington Times - June 12, 2013, 01:36AM

DENVER — The moment Tyler Colvin’s first home run of the night curled around the right field foul pole and dropped into the seats at Coors Field, Dan Haren just shook his head. It had taken 11 pitches at the outset of the fifth inning to see all of the work he’d done in the previous four dissolve.

In the Nationals’ 8-3 loss to the Colorado Rockies on Tuesday night, it was those 11 pitches that haunted Haren. Just like that the dam was open. He could no longer stop the Rockies’ offense from rushing through it. 

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And the toughest challenge he’s faced in his 11-year-career — the struggle to find consistent success — dragged on.

“I was kind of dumbfounded,” said manager Davey Johnson. “I was thinking ‘Boy he’s going to go seven, eight innings the way he’s throwing.’ … I don’t know what happened.”

What happened was that the Rockies offense, held down by Haren through four nearly perfect innings of work in which he scattered two hits, took him deep twice in one inning. That pitches that he’d focused so hard on keeping down in the previous four frames were left up, and he could not survive it.

After four innings and just 55 pitches, Haren walked Wilin Rosario on seven pitches to open the fifth. Colvin hit an 85-mph cutter left over the middle. Five of the next eight batters got hits, too, including pinch hitter Jordan Pacheco and center fielder Dexter Fowler in front of Carlos Gonzalez. He hit a three-run homer to left. 

“That’s been the thing this year,” said catcher Kurt Suzuki. “When he’s down he’s good and when he’s up he gets hit a little bit… That’s his game right there. Five innings, and one inning that kills you.”

The home runs were the 16th and 17th that Haren has surrendered this season. Haren entered this year averaging 22 home runs allowed per season. But even by his standards, balls are going over the fence with startling frequency — and when they leave, they do damage.

Of the 46 earned runs that Haren has allowed this season, 29 of them have scored on homers. That’s 63 percent of all the runs the right-hander has allowed in a Nationals uniform. 

“I just can’t keep the ball in the ballpark,” Haren said. “That’s what it comes down to. They’re good hitters, too. They’re going to make me pay for my mistakes. But I’ve never had so much trouble with homers in my career. I’ve got to really try to focus on keeping the ball down and do the best I can. I’m trying. But nothing’s really working right now.

“It’s not for lack of effort. It’s not for a lack of work and not for a lack of belief. As hard as it is, I believe every time I step on the mound that I’m going to win. I’ve been good for a long time. Just have to try to harness how I’ve been throughout my career. Hopefully this is just a bump in the road and I can turn it around, because I’m trying.”

It has left the Nationals with an issue, though. Haren was signed to be what the Nationals hoped would be one of the best back-of-the-rotation additions in the league. But his inconsistency has too often put the Nationals in a hole their anemic offense can’t climb out of. 

And five of his losses have come in the game after a win, bringing the Nationals’ attempts to build momentum and put together winning streaks to a screeching halt. Like Tuesday.

Their options are few, though, other than to hope that someone with as strong a track record and who still possesses obvious talent the way Haren does can figure things out. With thin starting pitching depth and injuries mounting, they’re in no position to do anything else.

“At this point, with the guys we’ve had down, it’s not a good time to be putting extra duty on those guys,” Johnson said, asked if skipping Haren for a start or two to allow him to work through things was an option. “He’s still very capable, and we’ve got a long way to go.”

And Haren has hardly been alone in his struggle. He entered Tuesday night’s game with the second-worst run support of any starter in the National League, the 2.8 runs per game his teammates have scored for him behind only Ricky Nolasco and the woebegone Marlins. 

After a huge day for their offense on Sunday, the Nationals entered the hitter-friendly confines of Coors Field and reverted back to the team that scores three runs or fewer and squanders opportunities. 

“We weren’t centering on the ball like we have been but that can happen,” Johnson said. “Any time you’re creeping along with a lead and all of a sudden, boom, it can happen here. You’ve got to swing the bats. It’s a tough ballpark to just pitch a blueprint game in.”

So Haren tried to put it behind him. To move forward and turn his eyes toward the Phillies, who he’ll face on Monday, with the hope of making that start the first of a string of outings in which he performs far more like himself.

“I think the easiest way to deal with it is just to focus on the next start and not look at really the big picture,” Haren said. “I don’t want to get caught up in my record and ERA. It seems like I’ve got forever to climb back to make it just respectable. I just have to look toward the next game and just keep things simple.

“I’m trying my best and I’m working as hard as I can between starts to look for answers. That said, it’s just a matter of execution, really.”