The Washington Times - April 20, 2011, 07:50PM

ST. LOUIS — Asked after the Nationals’ 8-6 victory over the Cardinals this afternoon which pitches he had working for him this afternoon against the Cardinals, John Lannan rolled his eyes and sighed.

“Today was a battle,” he said. “When you struggle like that, they’ve got guys that can hit the ball. It was tough. I just felt a little off and I had to battle. I didn’t have a certain pitch that was working for me but against this kind of lineup, you’re kind of lucky going out there and getting through five.”

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Lannan labored through five innings, threw first-pitch balls to nine of the 23 hitters he faced and had just one inning where he faced the minimum. But ultimately, the biggest downside to Lannan’s outing was that he couldn’t go deeper into the game. Pulled after just five-plus innings, Lannan needed 101 pitches just to get that far.

The only runs he gave up, however, were two solo home runs to Albert Pujols and Colby Rasmus. 

Staked to a seven-run lead it should have been enough. It was, but not without some hand-wringing as the bullpen allowed the Cardinals within two runs.

That said, Lannan moved to 2-1 on the season and has yet to turn in an incredibly poor start. He became the 16th straight starter for the Nationals to throw at least five innings and, finally getting some offensive backing, was able to keep his team in the game.

“The one thing that helped me today is that I made pitches when I needed to,” Lannan said. “That’s been the overall theme for my year this year, just making pitches when I really needed it.”

What the Nationals need now is for him to be able to go out and do that on Sunday against the Pirates on just three days of rest — something Lannan has never done in his career.

For his part, Lannan said he is ready to do it. After he came out of the game this afternoon he immediately set about getting in the conditioning work (running, lifting) that he does normally on the first day after a start and will go about his business on Thursday as if it were the second day after a start so he’s as ready both mentally and physically as possible to go on Sunday.

“I’m ready to go,” Lannan said this afternoon, his left arm encased in the usual post-game ice packs. “I’m going to talk to (pitching coach Steve McCatty) and (manager Jim Riggleman) and see what they want me to do but I’ve already put in the work right now.” 

Lannan said the only adjustment he might make this week is to go a little light in his bullpen session so as not to be too sore heading into a potential start on Sunday. If the Nationals decide not to start Lannan on short rest on Sunday, they’d have to go with a bullpen game and it would push back all of their starters to a six and seven days of rest with an off day upcoming on Monday.

The best case scenario for the Nationals as a team is for Lannan to make the start Sunday, which he seems prepared to do.

“You’ve got to be ready for whenever you start,” he said. “Right now, I’m mentally getting ready for that start. It’s up to (Riggleman) and (McCatty) to see if they want me to do that.”