- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 2, 2007

For five days, John Lannan heard it. From his teammates, from the media, from everyone he encountered.

“Hey, kid: Try not to get ejected from your next start.”

After making headlines around the country for his bizarre big league debut, Lannan couldn’t avoid the onslaught of attention.

“I really tried not to think about it,” the Washington Nationals rookie left-hander said. “But I went home, and everybody was asking about it. Everybody was talking about it.”

So Lannan sat through perhaps the longest five days of his life, itching to get back on the mound last night and make headlines for the right reasons — like a standout pitching performance to lead the Nationals to an easy, 7-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

That, as far as Lannan was concerned, was more like it.

No plunking. No broken hands. No controversial ejections. Just a well-pitched 52/3 innings before an appreciative RFK Stadium crowd of 28,944 that saw the home team’s offense shine again against Reds pitcher Bronson Arroyo to put its 22-year-old starting pitcher in line to earn his first win.

“I’ll never forget these first two starts,” he said.

Lannan (1-0) certainly was the star last night, rewarded for his performance with a game ball and lineup card that will go to his parents’ house on Long Island. But give an assist to the Nationals‘ lineup, which produced seven runs in two innings off Arroyo and gave Lannan a huge cushion to work with.

Washington’s success against Arroyo was nothing new. The Nationals pounded him for six runs in Cincinnati on May 21 in what was the shortest start of his career at the time.

Arroyo (4-12) set a new mark for futility last night, failing to record the final out of the second inning before getting yanked by interim Reds manager Pete Mackanin. The right-hander, who tossed 16 scoreless innings against the Nationals a year ago, allowed 13 runs in 32/3 innings against the same squad this season.

“His location maybe is a little off, and when we do get a mistake, we’re taking advantage,” said Austin Kearns, Arroyo’s former teammate in Cincinnati who has led Washington’s charge against him this season. “Guys aren’t fouling it off or popping it up. We’re just having some good swings.”

As was the case earlier this year at Great American Ball Park, Kearns was influential in battering around Arroyo last night, doubling in a run in the first, then belting a two-run shot to left an inning later for his eighth homer of the season (and second off Arroyo).

That’s all the offense the Nationals needed, with Lannan cruising to his first major league win.

Lannan, who began the season at Class A Potomac and climbed all the way up Washington’s farm system to reach the majors, was thrust into a circus in his first big league game. After hitting sluggers Chase Utley and Ryan Howard on consecutive pitches in the fifth inning, he was ejected by plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt despite no evidence he had done it on purpose.

Making matters worse, Utley broke his right hand, turning the soft-spoken Lannan into an instant pariah in Philadelphia and the subject of plenty of good-natured ribbing inside the Nationals‘ clubhouse.

All week, Lannan’s teammates were giving him pointers how to improve from start No. 1 to start No. 2.

“Don’t hit anybody,” left fielder Ryan Church said.

“Don’t hit two people in a row,” catcher Brian Schneider added.

Through it all, the young left-hander kept his composure. If he felt any anguish, he surely didn’t reveal it to anyone inside the Nationals‘ clubhouse.

“He’s pretty even-keel,” manager Manny Acta said. “He acted like he’s been there before, which says a lot about the kid. I’m not going to put him in the Hall of Fame right now, but I think that’ll help him up here.”

Lannan’s strong mind was obvious as soon as he climbed the hill last night for his RFK debut. Through three innings, he hadn’t given up a hit. Through five innings, he hadn’t surrendered a run.

Lannan didn’t show signs of fatigue until the sixth, when three singles and a walk resulted in a pair of Cincinnati runs. Acta tried to let the kid finish the inning, but a two-out, RBI single by Adam Dunn — it would have been a routine groundout to short if not for Washington’s defensive shift — ended his night.

The scene as Lannan walked off the field, though, was a far cry from the one that greeted him the last time he departed a ballgame. Last week, a stunned Lannan trudged toward the dugout to a chorus of boos from the Philadelphia faithful. This time, an appreciative D.C. crowd cheered, congratulating this potential future staff regular on his first career win.

“It was better than the boos in Philly,” he said. “It was great. I’m glad they were behind me. I feel like everybody kind of felt bad about what happened.”

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