Morse’s walk-off home run ‘sinks’ Padres as Lannan finds consistency

Lannan induced 14 ground-ball outs in Washington’s 2-1 win over San Diego

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John Lannan didn’t get a shaving cream pie thrust in his face and a shower of cold Gatorade. Instead, his left arm was wrapped in the usual ice packs and elastic bandages as he reclined in the clubhouse at Nationals Park.

The Washington Nationals’ starter didn’t hit the winning home run in the bottom of the ninth inning like Mike Morse or even pick up a victory Friday night. But Lannan discovered something in the Nationals’ 2-1 win over the San Diego Padres that could be much bigger: the consistency that has eluded him this season.

One pitch in the bullpen before the game was all Lannan needed to realize Friday was going to be different than his previous 10 starts. Everything felt, well, right.

“It was frustrating,” Lannan said. “I think I’ve said ‘battle’ after every start until tonight. I had everything going.”

Even when Lannan’s numbers were solid this season, he didn’t feel as if he had his best stuff. And plenty of outings followed where the numbers weren’t solid, allowing seven or more hits five times with an ERA creeping above 5.

In Lannan’s last bullpen session, he threw his two-seam fastball, better known as his sinker, maybe 70 times. That allowed him to find a feel for the pitch that is key to his success.

“When you see ground balls going to third base and shortstop, that’s his game,” manager Jim Riggleman said.

Lannan pounded the Padres with sinker after sinker. Fourteen of his outs over 7 2/3 innings came via ground balls. An outfielder didn’t record a putout for the Nationals until Ryan Ludwick flied out to left to lead off the seventh inning. Only four outs were recorded in the air.

“I knew I’d been struggling with my two-seamer,” said Lannan, who retired the first 11 men he faced and limited the Padres to two hits while striking out five. “I was able to throw it for strikes today and I really trusted it. With that trust, I knew I was going to have a good game.”

Even a 47-minute delay in the fourth because of sheets of rain and lightning couldn’t slow Lannan. He threw twice during the break and kept loose. A few minutes longer and he believed too much time would’ve passed to return. 

Defense aided Lannan, including a twisting catch in center field by Rick Ankiel on a ball that looked as if it was hit over his head and a snag by second baseman Danny Espinosa on a pop up in shallow right field.

And Morse, the victim of the postgame pie and Gatorade, provided the dramatic ending. After Jason Bartlett tied the game at1 with a home run in the top of the ninth off Drew Storen to steal Lannan’s win, Morse led off the bottom of the inning. He smacked the first pitch from Mike Adams into the left field bullpen.

“I try to keep it as simple as possible,” said Morse, who credited work with hitting coach Rick Eckstein to staying confident at the plate. “The one thing I didn’t do is lose faith in myself. … He preaches that we’re here for a reason, we’re professional hitters and we’re good.”

That gave Nationals, coming off a 1-7 road trip and losers of 10 of their previous 13 games, a badly-needed victory.

And Lannan finally found his badly-needed consistency with his sinker.

“I was more aggressive,” Lannan said. “I knew what pitch I wanted to throw and I had full trust in it. It all comes back to the sinker and having trust in that.”

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