Dan Haren was cruising through four innings last time out. The 32-year-old veteran right-hander held the Colorado Rockies scoreless through four, allowing just two hits total. He didn't walk anyone and he needed just 56 pitches to get the first twelve outs of the game. Then Haren walked Rockies' catcher Wilin Rosario in the first at bat of the fifth. Then he gave up a two-run home run by Tyler Colvin.
Then he allowed back-to-back one-out hits and a two-out. three-run home run by Carlos Gonzalez... and back-to-back two-out singles... and by the time the fifth was over, Haren had thrown 40 pitches, leaving him at 96 total and he was done for the night. A 2-0 Nats' lead had turned into a 5-2 Rockies' lead.
"He was really making pitches. He was breezing," Davey Johnson told reporters after what ended up an 8-3 loss on the road in Coors Field. "In the fifth inning he walked a hitter on about four pitches. Seemed to [lose] the feel of the ball. I don't know. It just seemed like he couldn't locate it from that point on. He was pitching a great ballgame. Making all his pitches. I don't know what happened. It's tough. You can't make mistakes in this ballpark."
"I was dumfounded," Johnson said. So was Haren. "'I’m getting strikeouts when I need it, for the most part,'" Haren told reporters, including the Washington Post's James Wagner, "'Not quite like I used to. Command-wise, I’m not walking guys. I just can’t keep the ball in the ballpark. That’s what it comes down to.'" Haren's right about that.
The Nats' right-hander has given up 2.11 HR/9 over the first 72.2 IP this season. In his career, he's allowed 1.09 HR/9. His GB% is down 9% from 42.8% in his career to 33.8% so far this season. His HR/FB% is up from a career mark of 10.8% to 16.0%. Having seen what he could do in those first four innings, however, the Nationals aren't ready to give up on the starter they signed to a 1-year/$13M dollar deal this winter. "'He’s still very capable,'" Johnson told the WaPost's Mr. Wagner, "'We’ve got a long way to go.'"
As Nats' GM Mike Rizzo explained last week on 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s The Mike Rizzo Show, however, they're hard at work trying to figure out what goes wrong and leads to Haren suddenly becoming all too hittable. "For four innings he was dominant," the general manager explained, "and for some reason that we've got to find out, he seems to fall off very quickly and elevate his pitches. And we have to find out if it's something mechanical or physical or what? And once we do that, if we get somewhere near the four innings that he threw early on in the game against Colorado, you've got the Dan Haren that we thought we had and he's a guy that could help us."
"For four innings," Rizzo continued, "He threw extremely well. Hit his spots. And threw three pitches. The cutter was good and the split was good. And then that fifth inning, for some reason, and I can't explain it right now, but hopefully we can look at tape and figure out mechanically what he does differently in the fifth inning that caused his pitches to elevate and when he elevates, obviously, he gets hit hard."
"We have to go back to the film and see where he's at," Rizzo said, "and he's going to have to make adjustments and get the ball down and pitch like we know he can pitch and like the history says he can pitch and like he has thrown in the past."
Did they figure it out in the intervening days since his start in Colorado?
If not, can they figure it out before tomorrow night when he takes the mound in Citizens Bank Park?