- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 6, 2008

JUPITER, Fla. — John Lannan stood in the visitors’ clubhouse at Roger Dean Stadium yesterday afternoon, his requisite three innings of work in the books, and rattled through a list of mistakes he just made on the mound.

“I didn’t make good pitches from the get-go,” he said. “I was trying to be too pretty. The curveball you throw in an 0-2 count I was throwing 1-0. And I’m just having trouble with my offspeed right now.”

However, the scoreboard showed three zeroes next to the St. Louis Cardinals’ name, which told a far different story than Lannan did. Sure, the 23-year-old left-hander may have struggled a bit in his second start of the spring, but as his superiors said, he got the job done.

“You have to battle through days where you’re not very good or you’re not at the very top of your game,” pitching coach Randy St. Claire said. “And he did. He put together three very good innings of zeroes up there.”

Lannan is proving to the Nationals that he’s capable of battling through rough patches and emerging on top. It’s a trait he displayed throughout a whirlwind 2007 in which he pitched at four levels in less than three months: Class A Potomac, Class AA Harrisburg, Class AAA Columbus and Washington.

The 2005 11th-round draft pick can’t believe how much he experienced in his third professional season. An afterthought in minor league camp when the year began, he defied odds and won at each stop. By the time he was called up July 26 for his big league debut, he had gone 12-3 with a 2.31 ERA.

In his first two weeks on the grand stage, he was ejected for hitting Philadelphia Phillies stars Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in succession, earned his first major league win at RFK Stadium and then struck out Barry Bonds while Bonds sat on 755 career home runs.

Lannan made six starts for the Nationals, going 2-2 with a 4.15 ERA, then went back home to Long Beach, N.Y., a local hero of sorts.

“I love it,” he said. “It’s been crazy, and I’m taking advantage of every opportunity they’ve given me.”

The latest opportunity presented to Lannan is a shot at making Washington’s Opening Day rotation. He’s probably a long shot at best to make it ahead of a group of more-experienced pitchers like Jason Bergmann, Odalis Perez and Tim Redding.

But that hasn’t stopped Lannan from doing everything within his power to persuade the Nationals to bring him north at the end of the month.

“I think he really wants to make this team, and he’s really trying to impress,” St. Claire said. “I think he’s maybe trying to do a little bit too much instead of going out there and just trusting himself.”

General manager Jim Bowden compared Lannan to ex-hurlers like Tom Browning and Jim Deshaies, guys who weren’t blessed with a blazing fastball but made up for it with moxie.

“They just knew how to pitch and knew where to put it and when to put it,” Bowden said. “They’ve got it here [pointing to his head], and they’ve got it here [pointing to his heart]. John fits in that category.”

Lannan put those qualities on display yesterday. He allowed at least one man to reach base in each of his three innings but battled back by striking out Troy Glaus twice and getting Albert Pujols to ground into a double play.

“He doesn’t get rattled,” manager Manny Acta said. “Even when he was wild, he kept battling and kept making pitches. That’s something that a lot of young kids like him might not do.”

Lannan has shown he can pitch well beyond his years. Whether that leads to a spot on the Opening Day roster remains to be seen, but many associated with the Nationals believe he will be a permanent fixture in the major league rotation someday.

“He can pitch,” Bowden said. “He knows how to pitch. He’s one of those guys that you know is going to be a successful big league pitcher.”



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