Unable to go streaking

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The Nationals, a team loaded with talent and built up by expectations of a deep playoff run, have not won more than two consecutive games in over a month.

It’s pretty tough for a team not to run off a simple three-game winning streak at some point over an extended stretch. The lowly Marlins put together three wins in a row a couple of weeks ago. Bo Porter’s Astros had a six-game winning streak recently.

The Nats, however, continue to be stuck in neutral, unable to carry pretty much any momentum over from one night to another.

Of course, it’s kind of tough to build momentum or extend a winning streak past two games when your starter gives up five runs in five innings, as Dan Haren did last night.

At certain points through his first 13 starts of the season, Haren has looked totally worthy of the one-year, $13 million contract the Nats signed him to this offseason. The first four innings of last night’s game could certainly be included among those stretches.

Haren was locked in, allowing just two baserunners through four, striking out five Rockies and retiring 11 of 12 after a first-inning double. Then, it’s as if he hit a wall. Haren’s pitches were all up, his cutter was sitting over the heart of the plate and he looked powerless to put a stop to the slide that was occurring.

Seemingly before anyone knew what was happening, the Nats’ 2-0 lead had turned into a 5-2 deficit, and their run of two straight wins ended with what eventually was an 8-3 loss.

Including last night’s outing, Haren has allowed at least three runs in an inning eight different times this season. Even if the veteran right-hander is cruising along, as he was last night, things can flip for him in a hurry.

He’s allowed 17 home runs this season, most in the majors and just three fewer than he allowed in the entire 2011 season, when he pitched 238 1/3 innings and posted a 3.17 ERA. He’s allowed the 17 bombs this season in just 72 2/3 innings (an average of 2.1 homers per nine) and his ERA has risen to 5.70.

Tonight, the Nats will turn to another veteran right-hander, Ross Ohlendorf, who has spent the first two-plus months of this season at Triple-A Syracuse. Ohlendorf has put up some solid numbers his last three times out for the Chiefs, allowing three earned runs over 17 1/3 innings, with 27 strikeouts and 10 walks.

In 108 career big league games, however, Ohlendorf has a career 5.10 ERA.

To make room for Ohlendorf on the 25-man roster, the Nats will option right-hander Nathan Karns back to Double-A Harrisburg. Karns held his own over his first two starts with the Nats, especially considering he had made just nine starts above high Single-A in his career, but he was hit around pretty good his last time out against the Twins.

He’ll head back to the minors with some valuable experience and an idea of what it takes to succeed at this level. The 25-year-old has ability and a good head on his shoulders, and now he just needs to build up some more innings and work on fine-tuning things. Over his 12 innings with the Nats, he allowed five homers, so he certainly learned the value of keeping the ball down in the big leagues.

The Nats will get Ross Detwiler back tomorrow, and he’ll make the start in the finale of this three-game series. Stephen Strasburg is on track to return Sunday, when he’ll pitch against the Indians. Their rotation is finally starting to look like it did entering the season.

Tonight, the Nats will rely on Ohlendorf, and hope that the Princeton grad will be able to get them going in the right direction again. Sitting a game under .500, seven games back of the Braves and 6 1/2 games out of a wild card spot, it’s time to start stringing together some winning streaks. These two-game mini streaks just won’t cut it.

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