Of the many things that have gone wrong for the underachieving Nationals this season, perhaps no player has been more of a disappointment than starting pitcher Dan Haren. It’s okay to say it, even Haren will tell you that’s the case.
“Obviously we’re a few games under .500 and a big reason for that is me, among other guys, but I take a lot of the blame,” he said after the Nats’ 4-1 win over the Mets on Saturday.
So to have the veteran seemingly turn a corner of late, at least across his four starts since returning from the disabled list, perhaps it can be taken as a sign of something bigger. The Nats have broken out of their losing ways momentarily at times over the past few months, but Haren has failed to maintain any sort of consistency from start to start.
Momentum has been a topic the Nats have shied away from after recent wins, knowing just one win can’t get them out of the general malaise they have been in for most of this season. But there was a general message of positivity after Saturday’s win, their third in the last four games.
The other two wins were on walkoff homers, while the loss was an 11-0 drubbing at the hand of the Mets. Haren says that game may have been rock bottom for the team, and to respond in the way they have over the last 24 hours gives a sense this recent stretch could actually be the start of something.
“After that 11-0 game, it was pretty quiet in here,” he said. “The job [Ross] Ohlendorf did… it really was a huge start by him. Winning that game yesterday I think made us feel like, ‘okay we’re not out of this yet.’ And then winning today will hopefully get us some momentum.”
Haren continued to say that if the Nats do hit rock bottom this season and eventually recover, it better have been that 11-0 loss. Washington is 8.5 games out of a playoff spot with 57 games left on the schedule.
The Nats feel a sense of urgency as the season’s final two months are approaching. If there is a real race to the finish in the NL East, they want to be a part of it.
“We don’t have any more time to get into any losing streaks,” Haren said. “We don’t have any time for hitting rock bottom any more. That’s it. If we’re going to hit rock bottom, that was it and we have to go from there.”
Haren certainly did his part in the Nats’ victory on Saturday, taking home a win himself for the first time since May. He pitched seven innings of one-run ball, allowing three hits, a walk and striking out six. He even notched his third double of the season and scored a run.
Haren has now held a 3.13 ERA across his last four starts, 23 total innings since being activated off the DL in early July.
“It's good to see him having fun and just to see him pitch well,” Denard Span said. “He’s been putting a lot of pressure on himself and putting a lot of blame on himself as well… hopefully he can carry this on to his next start and finish off strong for us.”
Span and Haren both helped the pitcher’s cause in getting the Nats off to a fast start offensively. The center fielder and shortstop Ian Desmond hit back-to-back home runs in the second inning and Haren then doubled in the third before being brought home by a Bryce Harper home run.
Span’s homer was his first this season and marked the seventh time this season the Nats have hit back-to-back home runs.
“It's been a long season for me offensively and it just felt good to finally get one over the wall and round the bases,” Span said. My home run trot was definitely a little rusty. I think I stutter stepped around third. I was just trying not to fall.”
Harper’s homer was his 15th this season, but he was more impressed with Span’s solo shot.
“That was pretty cool, seeing that,” Harper said. “Denard’s got some pop, so it was good to see him do that. Hopefully he doesn’t get too cocky and stay a little humble.”
With Haren out of the game, Tyler Clippard pitched a clean eighth inning for his 15th consecutive scoreless frame this season. And after an hour-long rain delay, Rafael Soriano shut it down for his 26th save of the season.
The Nats have won consecutive games for the first time since July 6 and 7, but as they’ve shown many times this season, just because they have momentum doesn’t mean they’ll keep it. Span said he and his teammates have learned from the dramatic ups and downs this season and hope this time it will be different.
“We've been up and down all season. Every time it seems like we have a dramatic victory, we think we're getting ready to turn the corner and then all of a sudden we'll lose a series or lose a few games in a row. Right now we're just trying to take one game at a time and just enjoy each victory as they come.”
The Nats and Mets close out their four-game series on Sunday with rookie Taylor Jordan (0-3, 3.68 ERA) trying to keep it going for Washington.