- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 26, 2008

LOS ANGELES — It has become the story of John Lannan’s season, and there’s really nothing the Washington Nationals left-hander can do to change it.

Unless he does his best Orel Hershiser impersonation and goes the rest of the year without allowing another run, Lannan appears destined to end his first full season in the majors with a losing record through no fault of his own.

A 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers Friday night was merely the latest chapter in Lannan’s hard-luck saga. Despite recording a quality start for the 15th time in 20 tries, he was again denied victory because his teammates couldn’t string together enough hits.

The loss dropped Lannan to 6-10, a record that doesn’t come close to representing his true performance this season.

“I’m proud of the young man,” manager Manny Acta said. “He just continues to go out there. Nothing bothers him about our lack of scoring runs for him.”

The Nationals have scored a total of 39 runs while Lannan is in the game, so the 23-year-old lefty would be justified to let out a primal scream of frustration. But he knows that’s not going to do him any good.

“I tell him the same thing: You can’t control wins,” pitching coach Randy St. Claire said. “Once the ball leaves your hand, you can’t control anything that happens on that field.”

So Lannan continues to plod along, offering no complaints whatsoever about his misfortune.

“Every start I go out and look at the positives and the negatives and take something out of it,” he said. “I really don’t look at the outcome that much. I’m just trying to learn and take everything in. And I definitely learned a lot today.”

On a cool Southern California night, Lannan went out to the mound and played it cool just like he always does. The rookie hurler mowed through the Dodger lineup for five innings, allowing just three hits and two walks over that span to lower his ERA to 3.15.

Of course, Lannan knows well that it takes more than strong innings to earn a win for this offensively challenged team.

Friday night’s affair was no different. The Nationals did manage to score a third-inning run off right-hander Chad Billingsley — on back-to-back singles from Paul Lo Duca and Felipe Lopez, a sacrifice bunt and Willie Harris’ sacrifice fly — but that’s all they managed off the Los Angeles starter.

Acta was hoping his lineup would get a much-needed boost from Lastings Milledge, who returned following a four-week stint on the disabled list with a strained groin, but the young center fielder had little impact. Batting out of the 6-hole, he went 0-for-4 and didn’t hit the ball out of the infield until his final at-bat in the ninth.

Lannan tried to hold on and make that one run hold up, but he couldn’t keep the shutout going all night. Upon loading the bases to open the sixth, he put himself into a huge jam, and though he got Jeff Kent to line out, he couldn’t keep Nomar Garciaparra from drilling a two-run single to left.

“Tried to do too much,” Lannan said of the fateful sixth, in which he allowed all three of his runs. “Went away from what I was trying to do the whole game. I guess I was just trying to overthrow, especially when I got the bases loaded.”

Washington, which has lost four straight on this West Coast swing, did mount one last-ditch rally in the eighth, drawing within a run on Ryan Zimmerman’s RBI single to center. Austin Kearns followed with his own base hit, moving the tying run to second and giving catcher Jesus Flores a chance to deliver the big hit.

Dodgers manager Joe Torre, though, countered with closer Jonathan Broxton. Flores was no match for the right-hander, who fired a pair of 99-mph fastballs past him to end the inning and kill the Nationals’ last best chance at earning Lannan a win.

“He blew me away,” Flores said. “I can’t say much about it.”

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