- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 21, 2008

There’s little question John Lannan has played against type in the Washington Nationals‘ miserable 2008 season, emerging as a legitimate major league starter when forward momentum has been supplied by so few of his teammates.

Manager Manny Acta said as much Saturday afternoon before the Nationals’ game with the San Diego Padres when he described Lannan as “one of the bright spots this year.”

“We found a pitcher,” Acta said.

That Lannan will go into his final start of the season still able to count his win total with a finger left over is mostly a side effect of pitching on a team with one of the National League’s worst offenses.

But on nights like Saturday, when a solid start from the 23-year-old rookie still isn’t enough to beat the National League’s second-worst team and earn him his 10th win of the season, it becomes all the more clear how scant his help has been.

A second straight seven-inning start from Lannan was washed away in a tide of offensive futility, fielding mistakes and the occasional baserunning blunder. It dropped him to 9-14 for the season in a 6-1 loss to the San Diego Padres and sent the Nationals into the season’s final week with 97 losses.

“I don’t ever worry about myself. I mean, we are a team, so if your team’s struggling, then I’m struggling too, you know?” Lannan said. “It’s not like I’m going to go out there and just say, ‘I did my job, and screw everybody else.’ We win as a team, lose as a team. It’s not like I’m going to become a different pitcher because of it.”

When Lannan has pitched well enough to win this season, one of two things usually happens: He either pitches so flawlessly that he can subsist on little run support, or his isolated mistakes are enough to put the game out of reach for Washington given the meager run support he has received (Saturday marked the 18th time in his 30 starts the Nationals have scored three runs or less).

His outing Saturday night was of the latter variety, and with a Nationals offense unable to ignite any type of rally, Lannan had little margin for error.

The left-hander allowed four runs (though only one of them was earned) on four hits in seven innings. But his night could be boiled down to three mistakes.

“It’s just a back-and-forth,” Lannan said. “I’m trying to pick out the good things, and I only see the bad pitches I threw. I just don’t know what to say.”

In the fifth inning, Lannan issued his fourth walk of the night after working Nick Hundley to a 2-2 count. Pitcher Chris Young sacrificed Hundley over to second, and Emilio Bonifacio then committed his seventh error of the season on a grounder by Will Venable in the hole behind first and second.

Hundley scored on the error, and worse for Lannan, it put another runner on base to increase the stakes when he hung a slider to Edgar Gonzalez, who hit it to left for a two-run homer that gave San Diego a 3-0 lead.

His final miscue of the night, if not the most egregious, was certainly the most embarrassing: the 88 mph fastball that drifted over the plate for Young. The pitcher launched it into the Padres bullpen for his first career homer.

San Diego added two more runs in the eighth, starting the inning when Brian Giles got the first of two Padres triples off fly balls Willie Harris couldn’t track in the lights.

“[This left field] is the hardest one I’ve played, only because of the lights,” Harris said. “You’re out there, you’re trying to make plays for your pitcher. It kind of upsets you when you don’t make a play because of some lights.”

The Padres got a single from Adrian Gonzalez and scored a second run facilitated by Ryan Zimmerman’s hurried sidearm throw that glanced off Cristian Guzman’s glove at second.

The way the Nationals failed to produce, the Padres’ extra offense was pure frivolity.

Padres pitchers handed them six walks - including three to load the bases in the second - one night after serving up 12 in Friday’s 14-inning San Diego win. None of those six baserunners scored.

Whether it matters for Lannan or anybody else to be rewarded in that effort is up for debate. But if Washington plays like it did on Saturday night, the discussion will be moot.

“No whining. No excuses. No weeping,” Acta said. “We got beat.”

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