What’s happening with Haren?

It’s probably safe to assume that Dan Haren’s Nationals debut didn’t go quite as he’d planned.

Yeah, I’d say that’s a fair assumption.

Haren got hit all over the Great American Ballpark last night, allowing nine hits and six runs in just four innings of work.

He surrendered four home runs, this from a guy who had allowed just 1.1 homers per nine innings over the course of his previous 10 years in the majors.

This performance comes after a spring in which Haren pitched to a 6.39 ERA in six Grapefruit League starts, allowing 18 runs in 25 1/3 innings.

So what’s going on with the veteran right-hander? Is it time to question the Nationals signing Haren to a one-year, $13 million deal? Should Nats fans be wishing Edwin Jackson was back in the Washington rotation?

Easy, now. Let’s all take a deep breath here for a second.

First of all, we’re just four games into the regular season. Haren has made just one meaningful start since joining the Nationals, and likely has 30 or more outings ahead of him over the rest of this season. There’s no need to read too much into one start.

There were also a few factors working against Haren last night. The 32-year-old was throwing on nine days’ rest, a significant adjustment for any starter used to pitching with four days in between outings. His routine in between starts was completely thrown off, and believe me when I tell you that major league pitchers are very set in their ways when it comes to how they prepare their arm in between starts.

Haren was also taking the mound in a ballpark where the ball tends to fly out often and in a hurry. Two of the home runs Haren allowed - to Zack Cozart in the second and Shin-Soo Choo in the fourth - barely left the yard and probably would have been doubles in the majority of major league ballparks.

The lineup Haren was facing last night was loaded with quality hitters. He didn’t get the benefit of taking on a Marlins batting order loaded with young prospects and guys at the back end of their major league careers, as Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann did earlier in the week.

I’m rattling off excuses, I know. Haren simply needs to pitch better if he’s going to have success going forward and if he’s going to validate the Nationals’ decision to sign him to that hefty one-year deal and slot him into their rotation.

He needs to get the ball down in the zone and force more groundball outs. Only two of the 12 outs Haren recorded last night came on the ground.

But even after Haren’s tough spring, there’s no reason to read too much into one regular season start. If Haren is still getting smacked around ballparks after three or four more outings, we’ve got something to discuss.

For now, let’s cut the 11-year veteran a little slack and trust that he’ll make some adjustments to be better his next time out.

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