A way to force something good out of another downer of a night was sitting right there for Nationals pitcher Dan Haren, waiting like a hanging curveball to be swatted out of the park.
Haren wanted nothing to do with it. There's a 1-3 record next to his name after he and the Nats lost 3-2 to the Cardinals on Monday night at Nationals Park. Sure, it was better than his previous outing when he gave up seven runs (three earned) in 4 1/3 innings. Heck, it may have been his best outing of the season, even better than when he beat the White Sox on April 11.
But a bit of a sixth-inning issue let the Cardinals take a lead and forced Haren out of the game. Solace in a job well done for much of the night?
"I've got to get obviously deeper into games," said Haren, a free-agent signing in the offseason who hasn't gone more than five innings in any of his four starts.
"I gave us a chance out there through the fifth and then I got into a mess. I've got to get better obviously. No one is more frustrated than I am. I have to give us a better chance to win. I want more out of myself than five innings, three runs and (Craig) Stammen bailing me out of that jam. I've been around 10 years, I'm used to going 7-8 innings every time. I've thrown 200 innings many times. Going five innings, you're not going to do that."
Haren threw 200-plus innings every year from 2005-2011. He's won at least 12 games every year since 2005 and only had one losing record in that span. He's a three-time All-Star. There's a reason his one-year deal cost the Nationals $13 million.
His teammates are trying to support him as he sorts through the emotions of his season's start. Shortstop Ian Desmond praised the way Haren threw Monday night. Manager Davey Johnson said, "I thought he threw the ball a lot better. He mixed his pitches up. That's a very positive outing for me. I think he has to be much more pleased."
Not so much.
"It's been eating at me, it really has," Haren said. "This week I tried to make a conscious effort to have more fun out there, not to put so much stress on myself. I want to do well more than anybody. I don't care about my numbers. I just want the team to do well.
"The toughest days when you don't pitch well are the days in between. Right now, I just wish I could get back out there. I have to wait five days."
Going into the fateful sixth, the score was tied at 2. St. Louis goes its runs in the third on a double by Allen Craig that came after a single by Pete Kozma and a walk to Matt Carpenter. The Nats tied it on the fourth. Ian Desmond doubled to score Jayson Werth. Rookie Anthony Rendon followed with his first major-league hit, a double that scored Desmond.
Haren hit Matt Holliday to open the sixth. Carlos Beltran hit a ground-ball single, Yadier Molina hit a sharp single to score Holliday. After a walk to David Freese, Johnson pulled Haren. Stammen, helped by a double play, kept any more runs from scoring.
Haren threw 86 pitches through five. There was no reason to be hesitant to send him out for the sixth.
"He finished off the fifth real good. I figured he could get through six," Johnson said. "It didn't work out."
The Nats got nothing else off rookie starter Shelby Miller and three relievers. Desmond came up in the eighth with two outs and runners on second and third. Trevor Rosenthal struck him out looking.
"That's the situation I want to be in *** the game on the line," Desmond said. "I'll take me in that situation any day of the week. He just got me out today. Hopefully I get that opportunity again."
Stammen's two-inning outing came two days after he struck out five in two innings against the Mets. He needed another double play to get out of the sixth but he did get out of it. Ryan Mattheus and Drew Storen finished, neither allowing a baserunner.
"When the breaks go your way, you look like a real good player. When they don't, you look like a real bad one," Stammen said. "Defense made some real good double plays for me, got me out of those two innings.
"The bullpen came in and we all really threw the ball well. We're starting to get into a little bit of a rhythm, figuring out when Davey's going to use us."
For Haren, that answer is simple. He'll be used every fifth game. That means he goes again Saturday against the Reds, the team that scored six runs off him in four innings in his Nationals debut.
"I feel confident. When I take the ball and get out there, I feel like I'm pitching to win," Haren said. "It's close. It's going to turn around. I just have to keep believing in myself."
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