- The Washington Times - Monday, April 28, 2008

There were times during his brief debut in the major leagues last summer when John Lannan would stand on the mound, in the dugout or in the clubhouse with a bit of a “deer-in-the-headlights” look.

It was perfectly understandable, given the fact Lannan was a 22-year-old pitcher who had gone all the way from Class A Potomac to the Washington Nationals in less than four months.

Now that he’s begun to establish himself as a successful big league pitcher — the latest example coming yesterday in a 2-0 gem over the Chicago Cubs — Lannan’s facial expressions should reveal a bit more assuredness, right?

“No, he still looks like that,” teammate Ryan Zimmerman said. “That’s just him.”

TWT Video:Felipe Lopez’ turnaround

OK, so maybe the baby-faced left-hander from Long Island is always going to look like he’s scared out of his mind. Everyone in a Nationals uniform, most importantly Lannan himself, knows that’s not how he feels on the inside.

“I love being here,” he said yesterday following his latest stellar effort before 33,795 at Nationals Park. “I definitely feel comfortable here.”

And the Nationals feel plenty comfortable with Lannan on the mound. He is 2-0 with an 0.45 ERA in his last three starts. He hasn’t allowed any runners to score in his last 19 innings, a span in which he has surrendered all of 10 hits.

For a team with few sure things these days, the Nationals (9-17) suddenly expect success every time this pitcher with 11 career starts on his resume toes the rubber.

“We’re being cautious about putting that pressure on the kid,” manager Manny Acta said before adding, “We are very optimistic when he takes the mound.”

Why wouldn’t they be? Since he debuted with Washington in July, he has done little to dispute the notion he could be a front-line starter for this organization for a long time.

Lannan (now 2-2 with a 2.64 ERA) began his current run with a three-hit, 11-strikeout performance April 17 in New York, added seven shutout innings Tuesday in Atlanta to defeat future Hall of Famer John Smoltz and yesterday held the first-place Cubs scoreless over seven innings despite getting himself into trouble a few times.

As Acta would put it, “I’ve seen him better.” And indeed, Lannan was not as sharp in this start as he was the previous two. He issued four walks and in the fifth inning allowed three singles that loaded the bases with one out.

But as he has done frequently in his brief time in the majors, Lannan displayed uncommon composure at the most stress-filled moment. He proceeded to get Ryan Theriot to ground into a double play to end the inning.

“The winners, when you make a mistake, they don’t let it bother them,” general manager Jim Bowden said. “They go to the next pitch, and they put it behind them.”

Lannan’s victory yesterday would not have been possible without some semblance of offensive support, which the Nationals gave their starter in the second. Wily Mo Pena, suffering through an otherwise miserable few weeks that until yesterday included a .159 average and one RBI in 12 games, provided his biggest hit to date: a two-out RBI single through the left side of the infield that put Washington ahead 1-0.

Moments later, No. 8 hitter Wil Nieves continued his magical ride in the big leagues with a run-scoring single of his own. The 30-year-old journeyman catcher, who won Friday night’s game in the ninth with his first career home run, gave his team a 2-0 lead and then guided his new favorite pitcher through another dominant performance.

Nieves has caught all three of Lannan’s starts during this run, and, despite never having paired up with the lefty before, realizes the two are developing a special rapport with each other.

“I just feel like I’ve been catching him a long time,” Nieves said.

Said Lannan: “He keeps me on my toes. We’re just on the same page. I like the way he calls the game. He’s just been great.”

SEEN AND HEARD AT NATIONALS PARK

Elijah Dukes took another step toward returning from a strained hamstring yesterday when he had four plate appearances for Class A Potomac. Dukes went 0-for-2 with two walks in the Nationals’ 6-2 loss at Frederick, and though he’s 0-for-4 in the first two games of his rehab assignment, team officials are pleased he appears to be healthy. Dukes now must get his timing down before coming off the DL.

“The reason you have rehabilitation assignments is so you can get the bat going and hit and not have to rush him like we did with Wily Mo [Pena],” general manager Jim Bowden said. “So we’re going to leave him down there until he does enough damage that we need to bring him up here. It’s up to him now.”

Catcher Paul Lo Duca, out with a bruised right hand, begins his rehab assignment with Potomac tonight.

Mark Zuckerman

BY THE NUMBERS

8 Consecutive at-bats in which Cubs catcher Geovany Soto had struck out before drawing an intentional walk in his final plate appearance Friday night.

TOMORROW’S GAME

Braves LHP Tom Glavine Record, ERA: 0-1, 2.38

Nationals RHP Tim Redding Record, ERA: 3-2, 3.67

Time: 7:10 p.m. TV: MASN

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide