The Washington Times - August 27, 2012, 07:47PM

John Lannan earned Triple-A International League Pitcher of the Week honors Monday morning, a nice honor for the Nationals’ left-hander as he prepared to make his return to the major league team for more than just 24 hours.

Lannan, the Nationals $5 million man, is expected to rejoin the team later this week when rosters expand and he’s the most likely candidate to assume Stephen Strasburg’s spot in the Nationals’ rotation when the right-handed ace is shut down in September. In that regard, seeing Lannan pitch well in Triple-A is a positive for both he and the Nationals.

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Lannan has been called upon by the Nationals twice this season to pitch in one end of a doubleheader as a 26th man under the new collective bargaining agreement. That, of course, is not at all how most envisioned Lannan contributing to this team at this time last year, but that’s the way the cards have fallen this season.

Now, just as the Nationals felt he would, Lannan is set to make his longer-term return and he’s going to be not only needed but counted on. That, of course, is partly why Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo kept such a high price on Lannan for possible trades, even after the team signed Edwin Jackson.

In a sense, Lannan was more valuable to the Nationals, knowing they’d be shutting down Strasburg, than he would be to any other team. So they kept him. Stashed him away for whenever they knew they’d need him. 

Remember back in July when the Nationals blew a nine-run lead and then lostthe first game of a doubleheader to the Braves? There was panic in the streets. And then Lannan started the nightcap on that Saturday and he pitched extremely well. The Nationals went 9-1 in their next 10 games. 

Lannan is 8-11 this year in Triple-A Syracuse with a 4.58 ERA. None of those numbers are spectacular but there’s also a sense within the organization that the Nationals already know what Lannan is and what he can do at the major league level so those numbers don’t concern them as much as they would a prospect still trying to reach the big leagues.

When he’s been called on at the major league level this year, Lannan is 2-0 and has given the Nationals a quality start, at the very least, each time out. Manager Davey Johnson is on record as saying he’d take Lannan’s performances any day in September.

Now, as his return approaches, it seems Lannan is honing in on his next promotion. This week, Lannan tossed a complete game, three-hit shutout over the Gwinnett Braves (Atlanta’s Triple-A affiliate).

Strasburg is expected to miss two or three regular season starts and Lannan will presumably join the team well before the right-hander is shut down, but the day is nearing that they’re going to call on Lannan on a more consistent basis. His latest performance in Triple-A is a positive sign that he’s ready.