- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 31, 2011

ATLANTA — Shoulders slumped and body turned squarely toward home plate, John Lannan knew precisely what was going through Derek Lowe’s mind in the third inning Wednesday night. As Lowe stutter-stepped around first base and the ball, the same one Lannan had held in his hands seconds earlier as he readied himself to throw a full-count fastball, was careening off the top of the left field wall and into the seats.

A month ago, Lannan had watched with the same unexpected exuberance when he witnessed his own first career homer, dropping over the right field wall at Dodger Stadium.  Wednesday, serving one up to a guy in his 14th big league season and pushing 40 years old, Lannan likely felt the same demoralized feeling that Hiroki Kuroda must have had watching Lannan, the lefty who started the season 0-for-32 at the plate, go deep.

And yet, in a 3-1 Nationals loss to the Braves, it was one of only two true mistakes that Lannan made.

Following a third inning that featured both Lowe’s homer and an RBI-single from Dan Uggla — and coming after Chipper Jones’ 450th career home run in the second — Lannan was nearly unhittable. He retired 13 of the final 15 batters he faced, finishing the night with a line that, on many nights and for many teams would be that of a winner: seven innings pitched, two earned runs, seven hits, one walk, six strikeouts.

“I thought he pitched a decent ballgame,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. “Gave up a couple home runs but by and large kept us in the ballgame. That’s all you can ask for your starter.”

But this was not another night and, like on so many other evenings this season, it was not another offense. Unfortunately for Washington, Lowe’s pitching was even better than his bat. With the help of an outside strike, down and away, the Nationals seemed fortunate to get the three hits they did, including two by Ian Desmond that were subsequently wasted. By the time Lowe may have been ready to falter, allowing a first-pitch home run to Michael Morse in the seventh, he was done for the night and the Braves impenetrable bullpen was summoned.

“He was on tonight,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, one of nine Nationals to go hitless on the evening.

“Their pitchers get paid too. It’s not easy to hit in this league. That’s why you don’t see teams hit four or five home runs in a game. The other team’s pitchers a very good.”

“He’s still got his stuff,” said second baseman Danny Espinosa. “If you’re going to get that pitch down, especially with a sinkerballer like him, it’s going to be a long night. Everything you’re trying to do on him is see the ball up. When he gets that pitch, it makes it very tough.”

So tough, in fact, that it was, for 25th time this year, a night where the Nationals’ scored one run or less. The Nationals have scored six runs or more 29 different times this season. Their record in the game that follows is just 11-18.

“We didn’t do much,” Johnson said, his demeanor 180 degrees different than it was after Tuesday night’s thumping. “I thought we got some pitches to hit and we just didn’t. Some days are like that.

“The same group of guys basically got 12 hits last night. Three tonight. The other guy pitched better. I can’t see any trends.”