Dan Haren handed the ball to Manager Davey Johnson in the sixth inning and trudged off the mound on Monday night in Nationals Park towards the home dugout. A St. Louis Cardinals runner stood at each base, his responsibility, with no outs on the scoreboard and a 3-2 deficit. He pitched in the sixth inning for the first time this season. He was his most pitch-efficient. He allowed the fewest hits in four starts and gave up three runs against a potent and patient Cardinals lineup. He had, by most indications, performed better than his previous three starts.
It was, however, still not enough. Haren stumbled in the sixth inning, including that go-ahead RBI single to Yadier Molina that proved to be the difference. He walked an uncharacteristic three batters. Haren, a veteran signed to a one-year, $13-million deal to help solidify the rotation, took the loss, his third this season, and his ERA sits at 7.36. Afterward, despite what his manager saw as an encouraging performance, Haren refused to fully acknowledge it, even saying it wasn’t a step forward.
“I guess a little bit better,” he said. “I mean, I gotta get obviously deeper in the game. I feel good. My stuff is good. I’ve had stints like this in my career. I just have to stay positive. Obviously, St. Louis is a very tough lineup. They were battling me on foul balls, a few walks, close calls. But they worked me hard. I gave us a chance until the fifth then I got into a mess.”
Johnson gave a more encouraging assessment of Haren’s performance, saying that Monday’s starter, albeit a loss that ended with a bad taste in the sixth inning, could be a start to build on.