- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 7, 2009

MIAMI | John Lannan had never pitched on Opening Day, and he had never pitched against the Florida Marlins. It wasn't a good combination of events for the Washington Nationals' young ace.

Battered around by the Marlins during three ragged innings, Lannan hardly put together the kind of start manager Manny Acta envisioned when he named the 24-year-old his Opening Day starter.

The young hurler made a name for himself last season as a reliable pitcher who always could be counted on to keep his team in the game. But Lannan had never faced Florida's potent lineup before, an anomaly he was mystified at entering this game, and his inexperience with those hitters showed.

Frequently falling behind hitters - he threw first-pitch strikes to only five of 16 batters - Lannan was forced to turn to his fastball and paid the price. Jorge Cantu drilled a two-run homer to left on a 3-0 pitch in the third. Two batters later, Jeremy Hermida turned on a 2-1 pitch and drove it into the right-field bleachers.

“You really can't work with much when you're 2-0, 3-0 to everybody,” Lannan said. “I felt fine warming up. I was excited, but I wasn't anxious. I just couldn't execute.”

With Lannan having allowed six runs and six hits in only three innings, Acta felt he had no choice but to remove his Opening Day starter after only 58 pitches.

“They're a good-hitting ballclub,” the manager said. “He fell behind them, and he got hurt.”

Back in Florida

Scott Olsen is as well-versed in the realities of modern baseball as anyone, meaning when he returns to the mound Tuesday to start against the team that traded him to the Nationals in November, he draws only the most practical meaning from it.

“It has a significance in me being in my own bed,” Olsen said. “That's about it. Once the game starts, we're not friends anymore for the two, three hours we're out there. Off the field, we'll hang out and be friends again.”

Olsen, who came to Washington with Josh Willingham in exchange for Emilio Bonifacio and two prospects, will start for the Nationals against the Marlins' Josh Johnson. Olsen took questions from a handful of media outlets about his return to Florida, where he had a sometimes rocky but mostly pleasant three years.

The lefty speaks fondly of his time in Miami, where he still has a house 15 minutes from Dolphin Stadium. He has explained occasional run-ins with teammates and former manager Joe Girardi like brief spats between brothers and said he still keeps in touch with many of the Marlins players.

“We had a real good group. We were all kind of thrown into a very unique situation over there together,” Olsen said. “We had 21 rookies that came up in '06. It's something I don't think you'll see again. We all knew Florida was a place that was real good for starting your career.”

Payroll up slightly

The Nationals increased payroll by more than $5 million this season, but they still rank among the lowest spenders in the majors.

Washington's Opening Day payroll, which includes the 25 active players and those on the disabled list, is $60,328,000. That's a small jump up from last year's Opening Day payroll of $54.9 million, owing in large part to the free agent signing of Adam Dunn and first-time arbitration players Ryan Zimmerman, Olsen and Willingham earning sizeable raises.

The Nationals still rank 27th among baseball's 30 teams in payroll, ahead of only the Pittsburgh Pirates, San Diego Padres and Florida Marlins.

Fourteen clubs opened 2009 with smaller payrolls than a year ago, another indicator of the country's economic struggles.

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