The Washington Times - April 30, 2011, 09:42PM

John Lannan pitched very well on Saturday. Let’s get that out of the way right now.

The story of the Nationals 2-1 loss to the Giants was not Lannan’s pitching. Instead it was the story of an offense that walked nine times — including five times in the first two innings — was hit by a pitch three more — twice in the second inning alone — and still only plated one run. 

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It was the story of a team that left 12 runners on base and went 1-for-9 in scoring position to bring their team average to .226 on the season.

But working in a 1-1 game with runners on second and third, Nationals manager Jim Riggleman made a decision that, ultimately cost his team the game. Instead of bringing in reliever Tyler Clippard to face Giants’ backup catcher Eli Whiteside, who’d homered once off Lannan already, Riggleman called for the intentional walk.

Loading the bases for the pitcher’s spot, pinch hitter Aubrey Huff then walked on a 3-2 changeup to force home the game-winning run. It was a decision that haunted Riggleman and he took full responsibility for it after the game.

I’ll just let him explain it:

“That was one of those ones where the right thing probably to do was just bring Clippard in to face Whiteside,” Riggleman said. “Every now and then you make a decision for your starting pitcher. If I pull John there, he’s got a no-decision or a loss. If I let him try to work through it, he’s got a no-decision or a win and it didn’t work. The right decision to make was to just bring Clippard in and that’s the end of that. Whether Clip gets him or not, that’s the way we go with that. I should have done that and that’s one that’s on me.

“I knew that (the pinch hitter) would be Huff, I knew it would be left on left. Huff’s a great hitter. He’s a great player but there’s a reason he didn’t start that game today. Lannan was pitching. He didn’t start that game and I just felt that two runs are out there, Whiteside had homered earlier, and I didn’t want him throwing to Whiteside again there. They get the bases loaded and the way John’s throwing, I felt OK about that, but it’s a decision the manager made.”

His pitcher didn’t shirk any of the responsibility, though.

“I knew I had to make pitches,” Lannan said. “I trusted that, in a 3-2 count, I could throw my changeup and I just didn’t get it there. If I finish it a little more, it’s a strike and we’ll see if he swings at it. I just didn’t locate that pitch and that was the game.”

Lannan, of course, is right. If he gets Huff out this is all a moot point. But the fact of the matter is the numbers don’t support Riggleman’s decision — even if he didn’t opt to go to the bullpen.

Aside from his home run off Lannan earlier in the game, Whiteside is a career .155 hitter against left-handed pitchers. He’s got a paltry .197 on-base percentage and had just one previous career home run against a lefty before he took Lannan deep to left field in the third inning. 

Huff, on the other hand, a left-handed batter, hits lefties at a .275 clip with a .328 on-base percentage and a .429 slugging percentage. He’s better against right-handers, sure, (.284 career average), but the numbers would suggest that your best chance to get the third out of an inning lies with Whiteside — a guy who’s played in just six games all season for San Francisco and, before Saturday, had just 11 at-bats. 

“I had my chance to keep us right there and I blew it with Huff,” Lannan said. “I pitched too well to kind of let the game be decided on that walk.

“That last pitch is just one that’s going to haunt me.”