"Feet of [expletive deleted] steel." - Charlie Skinner
27-year-old Washington Nationals' lefty John Lannan was informed last week that he was getting called up to make a spot start in one game of the doubleheader with the Atlanta Braves this weekend. Given the news, the veteran of five MLB seasons who'd lost out to option-less left-hander Ross Detwiler in the battle to make the Nats' rotation this past Spring, told Nationals' manager Davey Johnson, "'I can't wait to help the ballclub.'" Johnson, who said the decision to send Lannan to Triple-A at the end of Spring Training was the toughest thing he's had to do this year, told the Nats' '05 11th Round pick, who led Washington in wins last year, "I'm sure you will."
Neither the manager nor the pitcher likely expected that Lannan, who could be called up to make the start without any additional moves as part of a rule in the new CBA that allows teams to take on a 26th player when they are forced to play a doubleheader, would be called upon to end a three-game slide that had the Nats teetering just a game and a half ahead of the NL East's second-place Braves when play started in the second of two games on Saturday night.
Washington got hammered by New York in the series finale of their three-game series with the Mets last Thursday, then lost a heartbreaker of an extra-inning game with Atlanta on Friday night before dropping the afternoon half of Saturday's doubleheader. In Lannan's first start in the majors since September 27, 2011, he was shaky early, allowing Atlanta to score two runs in the first, but he followed that up with six scoreless innings of work, keeping Washington in the game long enough for the Nationals to come back and eventually overtake a Braves team that had won 10 of their last 12 and three in a row before Saturday night's loss.
Lannan surrendered two walks, three hits and two runs in the first, then gave up a leadoff double by Atlanta infielder Paul Janish in the second. After that only three Braves reached base against Lannan the rest of the night with Freddie Freeman singling and Dan Uggla and Chipper Jones hit by pitches and eventually stranded as the Braves went 1 for 5 w/ RISP against Lannan overall. The Nationals' left-hander was done after seven innings pitched. "I hated to hook him," Davey Johnson told reporters after the game, explaining that Lannan clearly had more left. The Nationals rallied for runs in each of Lannan's last three innings, taking a 3-2 lead after he'd retired the Braves in order in the top of the seventh.
Davey Johnson handed the ball to Sean Burnett in the eighth and Tyler Clippard in the ninth, his, "riverboat gamblers" as he called the set-up man and closer, and they both did their jobs with Burnett throwing a 20-pitch scoreless eighth and Clippard a 21-pitch scoreless ninth for his 16th save of 2012. Lannan earned his 39th career curly-W. But this one was different.
"I've never been on a first place team," Lannan told reporters after the game, "So that was kind of cool, and then I've never been in a game where it really meant something. Every game means something, but right now they're in a battle for the [NL] East and I just want to go out there and do my job." Lannan did. After the game, as expected, however, he was optioned back to Triple-A Syracuse where he'll wait to see if the Nationals need his help later this season:
Following tonight's game, the Nationals optioned LHP John Lannan to Syracuse.— Nationals PR (@NationalsPR) July 22, 2012
On Sunday afternoon Ross Detwiler, who beat Lannan out for the fifth spot in the rotation behind Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson, held the Atlanta Braves to two runs (one earned) on seven hits in seven innings pitched. The Nationals beat the Braves 9-2, earned the split in the four-game series, and finished the weekend with a 3.5 game lead in the NL East. Davey Johnson's been grooming Detwiler for this role since he took over as the Nats' manager last summer. Johnson moved Detwiler back into the rotation, managed him carefully and then picked him to be a part of the rotation this Spring.
Though Detwiler and Chien-Ming Wang traded places several times earlier this season, Detwiler has emerged as the Nationals' no.5 with a (5-3) record, 3.01 ERA, 3.68 FIP, 27 walks (2.62 BB/9) and 62 K's (6.02 K/9) in 20 games, 14 starts and 92.2 IP. John Lannan, who has struggled at Triple-Syracuse this season, posting a (6-9) record with a 4.89 ERA, 5.05 FIP, 39 walks (3.29 BB/9) and 59 K's (4.98 K/9), came up to the majors and stopped a three-game slide, providing the Nats with just what they needed to turn things around when it looked like the Atlanta Braves were threatening Washington's hold on first place in the NL East.
Given what the two left-handers provided the team this weekend, you can understand Davey Johnson's belief that the Nationals have what they need in terms of pitching to compete this season even after Stephen Strasburg's eventually shut down. "'Where we're at as an organization and as a ballclub,'" Johnson explained to reporters including the Washington Times' Amanda Comak last week, "'we've built from the ground up and the talent that we're high on is getting an opportunity to play and fill the need now. You don't go ahead and make a trade to regress that process. You play it out.'"
In an article this morning, FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal spoke to two unnamed executives who discussed the Nationals' needs heading into the trade deadline. He got two different responses. One executive, noting that the Nats' starters' low innings total, wondered if the Nationals could use a veteran arm to save the Nats' bullpen from eventually wearing down from overuse. In spite of what the Nats' '07 1st Round pick did on Sunday, the other executive asked incredulously, "'They’re going to run Ross Detwiler out there in a must-win game? I don’t believe that.'" Mr. Rosenthal points out that both executives represent teams that, "... have starters who might interest the Nationals," which could influence their opinions.
Though Davey Johnson doesn't think they need a deadline addition, the Nationals have said repeatedly that they're open to moves that make sense long-term. If they're unable to find the right deal, the team and their manager got a good look this weekend at what two of the less-heralded pitchers in their organization could provide them down the stretch this season as the Nationals head toward playing their first "meaningful" late season games.