Haren continues to search for answers

PHILADELPHIA - The first two pitches Henry Rodriguez threw as a member of the Cubs looked very similar to what we saw from Rodriguez when he was with the Nationals.

Rodriguez, who was traded by the Nats to the Cubs last week after being designated for assignment, made his Cubs debut last night, and the early results weren’t too surprising. Making this clip even more entertaining are the comments of the Cubs broadcasters just before Rodriguez throws his first pitch.

Talk about foreshadowing.

Meanwhile, the most frustrating stretch of Dan Haren’s career continues following last night’s outing, in which Haren allowed four runs and 10 baserunners over six innings. Haren left Citizens Bank Park last night the owner of a 5.72 ERA, fourth-worst among major league starters.

The veteran right-hander admitted that at this point, after the bulk of his 14 starts this season have not been to his liking, he’s trying to experiment with some things. In the third inning last night, after allowing a one-out triple to Michael Young, Haren adjusted his normal strategy of going right at hitters, and instead tried to force Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard to swing at pitcher’s pitches.

The strategy didn’t work. Rollins and Howard both laid off those pitches and took walks, and Delmon Young then dropped a two-run double into right.

“I felt like I’ve been giving in to hitters a little bit too much,” Haren said. “Sometimes throwing a little too many strikes and getting beat. Carlos Gonzalez last game. (In the third inning last night), I was kinda nibbling around the strike zone, trying to get them to chase. Rollins and Howard put up two good at-bats. Had a good strikeout on Domonic Brown. Then first-pitch, (Young) blooped one in.

“Obviously, that hurt just the way things have been going for me, not really catching any breaks along with just pitching like crap. I tried to keep my head in the game a little bit better than I have been. I was able to get six innings which is better than five. Obviously still room for improvement. I wish I’d given the team more.”

The problem for Haren is that as a guy who came into this season with 119 wins and a solid 3.66 ERA over his 10 seasons in the big leagues, he’s never had to make these type of adjustments on the fly before. Up until the last year or two, his fastball velocity has always been in the low 90s. Now, it’s in the upper 80s. The movement on his pitches and his location has always been excellent. Now Haren is leaving pitches out over the plate.

This is forcing Haren to tweak some things, like trying to get hitters to chase pitches instead of going right at them. And it hasn’t been the most comfortable process for Haren so far.

“My game isn’t walking guys. My game isn’t nibbling around the zone. My game is attacking hitters,” Haren said. “The runs (the Nats have been scoring) have been somewhat of a premium. I tried my best to keep that run from coming in, which getting to two outs and the bases loaded and the ball falls in. That’s why I said, a little bit deflating. I tried my best to stay in the game.

“I can’t buy a break and I’ve obviously made my share of mistakes. Just not a good combination.”

Davey Johnson said last night that the Nationals still have a lot of faith in Haren. They have to, really. Yes, Haren is making $13 million this season, and it would take a lot for the Nats to just dump him midway through the year and eat the rest of that money. But on top of that, they don’t really have many other options.

Ross Ohlendorf really impressed in his Nats debut, but can the Nats put him in the rotation and feel confident that a guy who has a 7.94 ERA over his last two big league seasons can consistently keep them in ballgames? Chris Young is still on the DL at Triple-A Syracuse. Nathan Karns got hit around in his first big league stint. Ryan Perry’s last four appearances have been in relief, and he’s been dropped back from Syracuse to Double-A Harrisburg. Christian Garcia’s injury cost him most of the first half of the season and has forced the Nats to again view him as a reliever.

Unless (until?) general manager Mike Rizzo acquires an arm from outside the organization, the Nats have to lean on the fact that Haren has had success in the past and hopefully will in the future. They have very few other choices for the time being, meaning that Haren will need to continue to tinker and try and find a successful formula.

“It’s no secret I haven’t done my job up to this point,” Haren said. “But confidence isn’t the issue. I’ve been good for so long. I believe in myself. I just gotta look at the small picture and not the big picture and try to take every game as it comes. I’m not going to try to be 15-10. I’m trying to win just the game and go from there.”

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