Taking a closer look at two struggling veterans

The Nationals were on the losing end of an 8-2 ballgame in Miami last night, but that’s one game of 162.

Of bigger concern right now are the struggles of two Nats veterans, guys who appear to be battling some confidence issues at this point.

Let’s start with Dan Haren.

The 32-year-old right-hander, who signed a one-year, $13 million deal with the Nats this offseason, was facing a Marlins team that had scored just 1.8 runs per game entering Tuesday’s contest, by far the fewest in the majors. Miami was also without Giancarlo Stanton last night, one of the most dangerous hitters in the game.

Still, Miami exploded for seven runs off Haren in the fourth and fifth innings, four of them earned. They worked Haren for seven hits and forced him to throw a whopping 93 pitches in 4 1/3 innings before manager Davey Johnson called on his bullpen.

Haren is considered a gamer, a guy who has taken the ball every fifth day and more times than not found a way to work deep into ballgames. In his three starts as a National, Haren has yet to sniff the sixth inning. He’s twice failed to make it through five.

In his 13 1/3 frames this season, Haren has allowed 26 hits, and opponents are batting .388 off of him. Those are obviously numbers that can’t continue.

“Something’s got to change on my part. I’ve got to start getting guys out,” Haren said on MASN’s “Nats Xtra” last night. “It’s not this hard. I’ve done it for 10, 11 years.”

Then there’s Ryan Zimmerman.

Entering this year, Zimmerman - a Gold Glove award winner in 2009 - had averaged one throwing error every 12.4 games over the course of eight big league seasons.

This year, Zimmerman already has four throwing errors in 14 games. All four of those errors have come in the Nats’ last five contests.

As we’ve seen at times in the past, it almost appears Zimmerman has an easier time these days with the tougher plays - the ones where he has less time and needs to rush a throw over to first - than the ones where he’s able to set himself and think about his mechanics.

Zimmerman’s play in the eighth inning last night, when he charged a Donovan Solano slow chopper, scooped it with his bare hand and whipped a throw across his body to nail Solano by a step, was textbook. His error in the fourth inning came when he moved in on a ball and had plenty of time to throw out Placido Polanco, only his throw pulled Adam LaRoche off the first base bag, allowing Polanco to reach.

Haren’s issues thus far appear to be mostly physical. His velocity (while down a couple ticks from where it was a few years ago) is fine and his pitches don’t seem to be lacking movement. He just hasn’t been able to locate or keep hitters off-balance enough to get the results he and the Nats want. In addition, despite his veteran status, Haren is probably feeling the pressure to perform at a high level on a brand new team with legitimate World Series aspirations.

Zimmerman’s issues certainly seem to be mental. Coming off offseason shoulder surgery, Zimmerman is still trying to get comfortable with a certain throwing motion, but he has shown the ability to make strong, accurate throws at times. It’s when he has a chance to think about the throwing motion that the throws start getting sprayed in various directions.

Is there reason to have some concern about the way Haren and Zimmerman have looked over the season’s first three weeks? Sure. It’s only natural to feel that way given what we’ve seen lately.

But it’s also important to keep in mind what these two veterans have accomplished to this point in their careers and remember that 4 1/2 months of the regular season still lie ahead of us, with plenty of chances remaining for Haren and Zimmerman to get back on track.

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