Haren optimistic Nationals can still get going after hard-luck loss

BALTIMORE - Freddy Garcia outdueled Dan Haren on Thursday night, but not by much.

Garcia used his split-finger fastball “60 percent of the time,” shortstop Ian Desmond estimated, and the pitcher was on target in beating the Nationals 2-0.

But Haren (4-6) hung in there against one of the hottest-hitting offenses in the majors, allowing just two runs and taking the hard-luck loss.

“(Baltimore has) an exhausting lineup, one through nine, anybody can get you,” Haren said. “I am glad I threw the ball well, but obviously not happy with the end result.”

The Orioles had shown the night before that they could hit homers with the big bats in their lineup, so Haren tried to stick to his strategy from his first pitch. They hit the ball hard in the first inning, with Nate McLouth leading off with a double.

“I was focusing on keeping the ball down,” Haren said. “There were some guys in the lineup that had given me trouble, Adam Jones and McLouth had a couple hits. Obviously, the ball was flying out of here, so I really had to make an emphasis on keeping the ball down and keeping us in the game.”

Haren finished 7 1/3 innings and allowed two runs on eight hits, with no walks and five strikeouts. It was the fourth time in his last seven starts he had allowed two runs or less.

In the 9-6 setback Wednesday, a game the Nationals led 6-3 after six frames, Haren wanted desperately to get the team to Atlanta with a win.

“We really needed a today,” Haren said. “It was a tough one yesterday. I was determined to win this game, but I was kind of walking the tightrope one inning. I made a good pitch to Adam Jones to get out of it. I wanted to go back out there in the eighth just to have a chance at it. But after the strikeout, they got the bloop and Machado hit the ball down the line.”

Haren was asked if the sweaty conditions helped or hurt his delivery. It appeared to Desmond that Garcia was getting some great action on his split-finger; Desmond felt the muggy weather helped Garcia’s release on his fastball. Haren said he actually does not like to pitch in this kind of weather because the ball gets slippery.

“Freddy has been throwing that split for a while, he has really mastered it, changing speeds with it, making a split a forkball,” Haren said. “It was dancing everywhere.”

Suddenly, the Nationals are 27-27, having lost four of their last six games. Haren’s previous team, the Angels, got off to an even worst start last season. After beginning 18-25, the Angels went on an eight-game win streak to get above .500. They battled to the end, finishing 89-73. Haren compared the Angels’ last season with the start the Nationals have had this season.

“We have dug ourselves a hole right now as a team, but it really is not too bad,” Haren said. “The hole we dug last year with the Angels, we were chasing two teams by the end of the year so that is always tough.

“Right now, we are looking up at Atlanta and we are going to play Atlanta. We go there and win some games, we will feel really good coming home. I don’t think it is a situation we need to panic. We have the talent. We are a little banged up, but everyone knows we need to play a little better.”

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