CINCINNATI -- In their long and mostly inglorious history, the Washington Nationals have lost more than their share of games in either lopsided or bizarre fashion. They lost a game by 14 runs. They lost a game in which they led 9-0. They lost a game on a walk-off grand slam. They even lost a game on a walk-off balk.
But in none of their 704 previous losses since arriving in town were the Nationals so thoroughly dominated as they were Friday by the Cincinnati Reds. By night's end, the scoreboard read 15-0, the most-lopsided defeat in club history. It didn't even feel like it was that close.
"We got our you-know-what kicked," manager Davey Johnson said.
Remember all those good vibes and "World Series or Bust" talk after the Nationals swept the Marlins to open their season 3-0? Nobody was talking like that at the end of this whitewashing at Great American Ball Park, least of all the man behind the plate who had an up-close view to each of Cincinnati's 19 hits, six of them home runs.
"I take a lot of pride in my work behind the dish, calling a lot of pitches and working on getting pitchers through the game," Kurt Suzuki said. "And when stuff like this happens, it just seems like you're handcuffed out there, like nothing can go right. ... I felt pretty helpless out there."
Imagine how Dan Haren felt. Making his first start in a Nationals uniform after signing a $13 million contract over the winter, the veteran right-hander was roughed up by the Reds' lineup, torched for four home runs in a span of 14 batters and unceremoniously yanked after only four innings.
Not the first impression the 32-year-old wanted to make on his new club, certainly not after an erratic spring that featured a bout of "dead arm" and another exhibition start in which he served up four homers.
"I know Dan. He's a competitor," said Suzuki, a teammate of Haren's in 2007 with the Athletics. "It doesn't matter if it's his first [start] or if it happens in the middle of the season. It's not him. It's not the type of pitcher he is."
Haren was equally adamant when trying to put this disastrous outing in the greater context.
"I've had my share of bad games with good games, and they're tough to deal with," he said. "But the sooner you forget about it, the better. It's such a long season. I've got probably 30-some starts left. This start isn't going to define how this year goes for me."
The Nationals are giving the three-time All-Star the benefit of the doubt, but they will need to see some evidence of success sometime soon to ease everyone's fears. One of baseball's most durable and dominant workhorses throughout his career, Haren is coming off a sub-par season in Anaheim in which he battled nagging back and hip injuries.
He insists he's healthy now, and his velocity -- 90 mph in this game -- wasn't alarming. But his command was nowhere near as sharp as he's shown throughout his career, with pitches left out over the plate begging to be hammered.
"I know I'm better than that," he said. "There's no use dwelling on it. It's over with. Move onto the next one."
All along, this seemed like a potentially unfavorable match-up for Haren, facing the potent Reds lineup inside a cozy ballpark without having pitched in a game in 10 days. And the small outfield dimensions did play some role in the proceedings, with two of Cincinnati's homers barely clearing the fence ... if they did at all.
A fan may have reached over the left-field wall to snag Zack Cozart's second-inning shot, and the same may have been true for Shin-Soo Choo's fourth-inning blast to right-center. Johnson came out of the dugout each time asking for umpires to conduct a video replay to determine if there was any interference, but the rookie plate umpire Jordan Baker wouldn't call for a review after Cozart's homer, telling Johnson he would need to talk to second base ump Jerry Meals.
"I said: 'I've got to walk out there? I'm telling you. Check it,'" the manager said. "I didn't get any response from the left fielder or the center fielder, so I didn't push it. But MLB should check that. I mean, I shouldn't have to go all the way out to second base for a review. It's a waste of time. We're trying to save time on a call."
The umps did go back to review the Choo homer and emerged 3 1/2 minutes later upholding the original call.
By then, the Nationals trailed 6-0, and things were only going to get worse. Zach Duke surrendered six runs himself (five earned) in relief of Haren. Henry Rodriguez retired only one of four batters faced, serving up a grand slam to one of them. Ryan Mattheus allowed one more run in the eighth for good measure, officially making this the most-lopsided loss in Nationals history.
Then, to add injury to insult, first baseman Adam LaRoche came out of the game with lower back tightness, an ailment that has plagued him since Wednesday night and could keep him out of the lineup Saturday afternoon.
"It's not a real sharp pain," he said. "It just feels really tight. Kind of located right in the middle and staying there, knotted up. But get a little hot/cold, do what we can."
Whether he plays Saturday or not, LaRoche will show up at the park not worried at all about Friday night's loss.
"You just dismiss it," he said. "These are going to happen. I have a feeling we're going to be on the better side of a lot of these games this year."