Lannan, Nationals remain in control

ATLANTA | If one of the marks of a front-line major league pitcher is his ability to give his team a chance to win, even on nights when he isn’t at his best, John Lannan has it.

The second-year pitcher hasn’t been, and might never be, dominant on a regular basis. But in a stadium that has been a sanctuary for pitchers capable of succeeding a level or two below their peak, he again showed how quickly he’s grasping that special quality.

Basking in his ability to silence a rowdy crowd at Turner Field, Lannan won for the sixth time this year in an 8-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves, showing again why an imprecise fastball isn’t enough to fell his unbending will.

Like the pitchers to whom he’s occasionally compared - Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine - Lannan worked doggedly through the Braves’ lineup, consulting with pitching coach Randy St. Claire between every inning to rein in his four-seamer, which cut back over the plate, and worrying about little else.

“I was having fun out there,” Lannan said. “That’s why I like pitching, those kinds of situations.”

Lannan walked three hitters, his one run coming off a free pass he issued to the pitcher, and encountered trouble on more than one occasion. But he can survive in those situations because of a steadfast reliance on his fastball - the pitch he threw more than 70 percent of the time and the pitch that got him out of most of the jams relatively unscathed.

“It says a lot about him because when we’re talking about that he doesn’t have the best stuff, we’re still not talking about a guy that throws in the mid-90s,” manager Manny Acta said. “He does it with control, and with staying even keel despite his young age.”

The win gave Lannan his second this year at Turner Field, matching his total at Nationals Park and making it one of three ballparks (including Houston’s Minute Maid Park) where the 23-year-old has won multiple games in his career.

It was also his second victory in a row. He was helped by another strong effort from an offense that entered the night averaging 2.82 runs of support in Lannan’s 18 previous starts.

Washington’s offensive outburst started in the third inning, when Willie Harris led off with a single and then stole second. Paul Lo Duca doubled down the right field line, and Cristian Guzman followed with a triple to the same spot.

Then, Austin Kearns hit a fly ball to right fielder Jeff Francoeur. But his throw home soared over catcher Brian McCann. It hit the net behind home plate on the fly, as Cristian Guzman scored to give the Nationals a 3-0 lead.

“We’ve had a hard time getting big hits early in the season,” said Harris, who had three hits and three runs. “Hopefully, this is a sign of change.”

Lannan gave up singles to Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann before hitting Francoeur to load the bases in the fourth. But he battled Greg Norton through a seven-pitch at bat and retired the left fielder on a fly ball to center on the sixth fastball he threw him.

“Just attack him with my fastball, no games,” Lannan said when asked for his approach. “It’s the fourth inning, and I just wanted to get the team back in the dugout.”

The left-hander’s biggest source of trouble came in the fifth, when he walked Jair Jurrjens to start the inning. Then, Gregor Blanco dropped a bunt down the third-base line and reached first safely while the ball stayed just inside of the chalk.

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