ST. LOUIS — When John Lannan left the Nationals’ clubhouse on April 3, leaving to embark on a season he never anticipated, manager Davey Johnson, several teammates and coaches, and general manager Mike Rizzo left him with one message: We’re going to need you.
That’s a story that has been repeated several times already this season. Lannan has made five starts for the Nationals this year — and yet he seems to be the guy they’re giving the ball to most often when they need a big win.
Those parting words from the spring have proven exceedingly true.
Lannan will take the mound Monday night against the Phillies with the Nationals needing their biggest win. The only win left for them before they can get to where they’ve worked to be all season. Ross Detwiler had the first crack at this win — at pitching under this pressure — and, as he put it, “I sucked.”
So now it’s to Lannan. Against an opponent that has given him more trouble than any other in his major league career, but one he also handled well for 5⅓ innings of work in an 8-4 win that, yes, the Nationals badly needed.
“We have all the confidence in the world (in him),” Detwiler said Sunday. “He threw against them last week and did really well. He got us a huge win after I lost the game and he came back and did what he needed to do to get the win.”
The Nationals first chance at clinching went miserably. Instead of drenching the visitors’ clubhouse at Busch Stadium with beer and champagne and reveling in three games devoid of pressure for them to rest and prepare for the playoffs, they were quietly packing up. Turning their eyes toward tomorrow.
“He’s 4-0,” Johnson said of Lannan. “Pitched some good ballgames.We’ve had rough outings before and come back good. We’ll be fine. And I like clinching at home in front of the home fans. That’s nice.”
Lannan’s journey this season is one that has been different than the rest of most of his teammates. While they were ascending to the major league’s elite, Lannan was mostly watching from afar in the minors. But that period is over now. He’s back being an important member of the Nationals’ rotation and no start he’s made will be more important than Monday’s.
“We’d love to see him (clinch it),” Detwiler said. “But you could say there’s a story behind everybody else, too, and they deserve to get the win.”
“Whoever it is (pitching), it doesn’t matter,” said shortstop Ian Desmond. “We’ve got to pitch, we’ve got to hit and we’ve got to play some defense. Our pitching has been great all year and they’ve gotten us to the position we’re at.”