The Washington Times - August 3, 2011, 01:28AM

The Nationals delivered the “laugher” their manager had been waiting for since he took the job five weeks ago. In beating the Braves 9-3 Tuesday night, they extended a winning streak to four games, saw John Lannan bounce back from a rough start and watched their offense explode the way they’ve been promising it would all season.

I wrote most of my game story about the slide into home plate by Jonny Gomes that keyed the Nationals biggest inning — and was followed by a grand slam from the suddenly sizzling Rick Ankiel. But there was plenty of other notes from tonight’s game that I didn’t want to go overlooked, so here goes:

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– John Lannan’s rebound tonight went a little unnoticed since the Nationals bats were so loud but it was important to note not only that Lannan was able to be successful as far as the box score was concerned but also with pounding the strike zone.

Lannan was coming off three straight starts where he walked four batters and he stood at his locker last Thursday and promised it wouldn’t continue to happen. He called it “unacceptable” and Tuesday night he threw 80 of his 110 pitches (72 percent) for strikes. It’s the most strikes he’d thrown in an outing since July 2009 and the highest percentage of strikes he’d thrown all season. It was a conscious effort for Lannan, who knows nothing irritates his pitching coach more than walks — and for good reason.

“After getting hit in the face, I walked 12 guys in three games,” Lannan said. “I told you guys last week it was unacceptable. I knew I had to put the work in, and I told you guys that and I did that. I told myself I had to pound the zone no matter what and trust myself and I got back to that today.”

Lannan went 6 1/3 innings, walking one and allowing three earned runs. Here’s what else he had to say about his outing:

“You’re always a hit or two away against a good team like that. You’ve got to stop the bleeding somehow. I was just happy that I wasn’t giving them free bases. I wasn’t walking guys. If they were getting on base, the earned it. They’re a good hitting team. They put hits together, and that’s how they scored runs. You can’t be upset about that. You’ve just got to stop the bleeding. I’m just happy with the fact I didn’t walk anybody.

This was Lannan’s eighth career victory against the Braves, the most he has over any opponent in his career. For contrast, Lannan lost 10 against the Phillies before finally getting a win earlier this season

“I think they struggle against lefties a little bit,” Lannan offered as an explanation for the dominance. “If you look at the other guy that has a bunch of wins against them in the NL East, it’s (Cole Hamels). I don’t think there’s anything I really notice, but I try to throw good games every time. It just happens that I have good games against the Braves.”

Lannan also piled up a season-high eight strikeouts Tuesday night and Henry Rodriguez added four of his own for 12 by Nationals pitchers.

“Today I think it’s because I had my changeup,” Lannan said. “I had to realize what I realized in Milwaukee (this past May), having that talk with (Steve McCatty). Just realize who I am, and that’s sinker-changeup. Today my secondary stuff was pretty good. I’m really not trying to strike guys out. I’m trying to have early contact. But when I feel good about my offspeed, especially my changeup, that’s a pitch I’ve really got to work on.

“The biggest thing I learned about throwing changeups to lefties was the Phillies. (Chase Utley) and (Ryan Howard), to kind of get them off the outside pitch, I needed something else inside. If you look at the numbers, most lefties struggle on changeups. They don’t see them much. I’ve just got to have the confidence to throw them, and it works.”

– Henry Rodriguez was something of an unsung hero himself, throwing 2 1/3 scoreless to help Nationals manager Davey Johnson save his bullpen for one night. Rodriguez, who has had a rough stretch of appearances, was very good. Even after his pitch count reached into the 30s, Rodriguez was still hitting 99 and 100 mph on the radar gun.

He seems to have been somewhat supplanted by Ryan Mattheus as the default next guy up when Tyler Clippard is unavailable and a crucial situation is on the line, but Rodriguez’s progress is still something that’s integral to the Nationals’ bullpen having success. More nights like Tuesday would go a long way toward solidifying his place in it.

“The biggest thing today was not only my starter, but Rodriguez,” Johnson said. “He did a heck of a job. Saved my pen. I’ve worked the bullpen guys a lot, and he came in and he was almost unhittable. That was big. He’s got a great curveball. A lot of times he tries to do too much. He really just stayed within himself and really didn’t get behind a lot of hitters. He’s nasty. His stuff was filthy.”

– There were plenty of positives to go around Tuesday night but one of the biggest ones had to be seeing Ian Desmond display some of his power and hit his first home run since April 28.

Desmond’s offense has been something of a hot topic this season, much like his defense was last year, but since the Nationals have returned home he’s seemed to come out of things a little. He’s been bumped out of the eight spot in the lineup and hit over .300 with three extra-base hits and five RBI. His on-base percentage has also skyrocketed. 

Still, when asked about the positives, Johnson pointed to Desmond’s first RBI of the night, a sacrifice hit to right field that scored Jayson Werth with the Nationals’ first run of the night.

“Desi, sac fly, that was big for him,” Johnson said. “He’s doing the things he did last year. He’s starting to warm up… If he had his druthers, he’d like to hit third. I like his confidence and I like his ability. I’ve told him: He reminds me a lot of Larkin. He hits the ball good, runs good, plays the field. I said you’re the kind of guy that could hit 1, 2 or 3.”

“It felt good (to hit the homer),” Desmond said. “I was just glad to get the RBI and drive the run in. We’ve been kind of scuffling with runners in scoring position all year. It’s nice to finally be able to participate in that and to see the offense moving in the right direction is good. I think it’s just that the offense in general, everyone’s getting on base. To hit with runners out there, you’ve got a little action instead of just hitting with the bases empty all the time.”

– It will be interesting to see where HitTracker marks Michael Morse’s opposite-field bomb from Tuesday night. Morse’s shot, his 18th of the season, landed in the second deck above the out of town scoreboard in right center field. It’s a tough place for a right-hander to power the ball but, really, what Morse does shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone anymore.

What began as a hot streak has to be considered as simply a talented player finally showing what he can do when given the opportunity. Morse has more at-bats this season already than he’d ever had in his career at the major league level — and he’s performing better than he ever did as well.