As Davey Johnson sat down in front of reporters for his postgame press conference tonight, he let out a deep sigh.
The Nationals are now 10-9 on the season after tonight's 3-2 loss to the Cardinals. They're treading water at the moment, searching for signs that they're making progress and on the way to snapping out of this funk to open the 2013 season.
Dan Haren failed to retire a batter in the sixth inning for the fourth straight start but, compared to his previous three outings, tonight appeared to be a step in the right direction. Haren allowed three runs over five-plus innings, surrendering six hits and three walks. He hit a batter and struck out three.
Through five, Haren had the makings of a quality start, but he just fell apart in the sixth, allowing all four batters he faced to reach.
"I thought he threw the ball a lot better," Johnson said. "Thought he had good location, was mixing his pitches up. Sixth inning, hitting (Matt) Holliday out of the shoot, then just didn't finish it off. I thought he pitched a good ballgame. ...
"That's a very positive outing for me. I think he's gotta be much more pleased. I think that's more of the Dan Haren we're used to seeing. He used all his pitches and threw more offspeed pitches today than he normally does, which I like."
Haren had thrown 87 pitches after five innings and didn't look to be tiring when he retired the final three batters he saw in the fifth. Is it possible, however, that he just ran out of gas?
"I have no idea," Johnson said. "He's thrown a lot of pitches per inning in his starts leading up to this one, but I like what I saw. ... I was comfortable with what I had (after five innings), but I also felt like there was a lot more. Finished off the fifth real good, figured we could get through six. But it didn't work out."
While Haren might draw the ire of fans frustrated with his rough start to his Nationals tenure, the Nats' offense is also to blame for tonight's loss.
The Nationals managed just five hits against Cardinals pitching. They struck out 11 times, and Ian Desmond's looking K against Cardinals righty Trevor Rosenthal to end the eighth and leave two runners in scoring position probably stung the most.
"All (Rosenthal) was throwing was fastballs," Johnson said. "The umpire was giving him a little bit of the top end of the strike zone, but you've got to make him bring it down and just center on the fastball. We're not swinging the bats throughout the lineup like we're capable of, but (Cardinals starter Shelby Miller) was certainly a guy that... I think through five innings, I think he threw two breaking balls. But he's been very successful with that, and our guys couldn't get on top of it."
The Nats have now scored two or fewer runs in eight of their 19 games this season. Johnson was asked if he can spot anything that's going on with his guys that's leading to the low offensive numbers.
"No, I really can't," Johnson said. "I didn't think with the exception of (Matt) Harvey - he threw a pretty good game against us - I didn't think anybody else out there should've been shutting us down that much. But it runs in streaks."
One of the positives today for the Nats was Anthony Rendon registering his first major league hit - a double up the gap in right-center that scored Desmond in the fourth inning, tying the game 2-2.
"When he uses right-center, when he goes that way, he's an awful good hitter," Johnson said. "But he's learning."