The Washington Times - July 23, 2011, 03:35AM

LOS ANGELES — The story Friday night was John Lannan. John Lannan on the mound, John Lannan at the plate. 

It was Lannan’s moment in the sun as he turned in his 11th straight start where he didn’t allow more than three earned runs and, oh by the way, also hit the first home run of his career. 

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But it would be remiss to overlook what Sean Burnett did in getting two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning to wriggle out of a prime scoring opportunity for the Dodgers with the top of their lineup set to step to the plate. Burnett, who has struggled both mightily and somewhat inexplicably, needed nine pitches to retire both Tony Gwynn Jr. and Rafael Furcal to end the inning and preserve what was, at the time, a 3-2 Nationals lead. The Dodgers wouldn’t put another runner on base all night and Jerry Hairston Jr. would make it a blowout with a ninth-inning grand slam.

Burnett’s last outing went as so many of them have for him this season: unsuccessfully. While he recovered from issuing a first-batter, lead-changing home run in Atlanta Sunday to throw a scoreless inning in the following frame, Burnett was still standing in front of his locker explaining his role in another blown game.

“I’ve got to make some adjustments and figure this out,” Burnett said Sunday. “It’s costing the team ballgames.”

Monday in Houston Burnett was in the outfield early in the afternoon working on some things in a session, with Matt Stairs serving as his catcher. But it was a conversation he had later with pitching coach Steve McCatty and starter Livan Hernandez that Burnett pointed to Friday night in Los Angeles as a potential turning point for him.

“I sat in the bullpen down there, in that little dungeon, talking with Cat and Livo and Livo gave me some good advice and told me it’s just more of a test I’m going through right now,” Burnett said. “Obviously the stuff is there. My location of my pitches wasn’t there and that’s why I’ve been getting hurt but the same stuff I’ve been throwing the last three or four years, (it’s there.)

“We had a pretty good talk. It’s just nice to get that support from your teammates. Everybody’s been supportive. It’s been a struggle for me and it’s been a long season so far but my teammates have been great and the conversation I had with Cat and Livo, it was just a little pat on the back and ‘Get going.’ It’s nice to hear it from guys that are your peers and have been in that situation. Livo’s been in the game so long that he’s had his ups and downs and he knows how to battle through things.”

The confidence in Burnett has never wavered, at least not publicly. Both former manager Jim Riggleman and current skipper Davey Johnson have continued to put Burnett on the mound in the situations that he should be used in — the ones he was so incredibly adept at working in last year. 

“I talked to Burnie,” Johnson said. “I said, ‘You know, I have all the confidence in the world in you and I’m going to use you in tough situations.’ He was outstanding. We need him and he knows we need him. I think he’s going to have a good second half.”

It was a small step, getting two batters out Friday night, but an important one. Burnett is really the only left-handed reliever in the Nationals bullpen. The other lefty, Ross Detwiler, is meant to be the long man and is on a unique schedule to maintain his status as a quasi-starter. As far as situational left-handers go, Burnett’s their man. His effectiveness is paramount.

“Hopefully the last couple outings have been better and hopefully get on a roll,” Burnett said. “I’ve got to have a few more good ones before I think I’m over the hump but it’s nice to get out of that. That was a big situation and hopefully I can gain some confidence from that and keep going. It was a big outing for me.”

“Sean’s nasty,” Lannan said in a vote of confidence for the reliever who bailed him out in the seventh after a one-out double. “He has great stuff. He just did his job. That’s what you expect from him. You know he’s better than he’s been the last couple of outings so for him to come out and do what he did is really impressive that he’s mentally that strong. He’s going to continue to do that.”