The Nats' ace strikes again

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John Lannan will probably be teammates with Stephen Strasburg sometime soon. Maybe later this season. Almost certainly next year. The difference in the way the two pitch will be striking.

Strasburg, as you all know, comes at hitters with a 100-mph fastball and an 87-mph slider as his change of pace. That’s about as hard as Lannan throws his fastball. But you know what? It still works. And for the last couple of months, it’s really worked.

Tonight’s complete-game shutout over the Mets was merely the culmination of a really impressive run of starts by Lannan. Over his last nine outings, he’s now 5-2 with a 2.60 ERA. More impressively, he’s pitched into the eighth inning in four of those starts, twice going the distance. That’s been a big point of emphasis for the 24-year-old.

“Before it was my goal, but I’d never been there before,” he said. “Now I’ve been there. I’ve been in the eighth and I know how it feels. I feel mentally and physically strong in those later innings. It’s a great feeling.”

How has Lannan been able to pitch so deep into games? Because he throws strikes, plain and simple. In tonight’s win, he threw 80 of his 106 pitches for strikes. He threw first-pitch strikes to 23 of the 32 total batters he faced, including the final 11 Mets who came to the plate. Guess how many times Lannan went to a three-ball count tonight? Once.

“He’s a polished guy,” said Jim Riggleman, who was presented with the game ball by Lannan in honor of his first win as interim manager. “I know he’s only in his mid-20s, but he pitches like a real seasoned veteran and I think he relishes the role of being the lead guy on our staff.”

Lannan has always been confident in his abilities. That character trait was obvious the moment he stepped into the Nats clubhouse in 2007. But his confidence has only grown in the two years since. He knows he doesn’t have Strasburg-stuff. But he also knows his stuff is good enough to win at the big league level.

“I’m very deceptive,” Lannan said. “I mean, if a guy’s mis-hitting it at 88 mph, there’s something going on. There has to be a little bit of funk. That has to help me trust my stuff a little better. Last year, I nibbled the corners. Even the first few starts this year, I was nibbling the corners. I haven’t had that feeling nibbling his year. Bwecase I have that trust in my fastball now. It doesn’t have to be 95 mph. There’s something in my delivery or something that just throws off hitters a little bit. It might be later movement. But I’ve learned that I can trust my fastball to be effective.”

And the Nats have learned they can trust Lannan to come up big every time he takes the mound.

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Mark Zuckerman

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