- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 26, 2009

By now, John Lannan has mastered the practice of standing in front of his locker, facing the same questions about whether he’s disappointed not to have a fine start rewarded with a win and saying the things you’d expect a staff ace to say. Whether he’s frustrated or not, the Washington Nationals’ left-hander isn’t about to show it publicly.

Sure, the exercise happened again Friday night after Lannan threw a career-high 122 pitches and went seven innings without an earned run but lost because the Nationals made mistakes behind him and couldn’t hit Atlanta starter Javier Vazquez in a 4-1 loss. But how was it any different than the other starts in the growing catalog of unrewarded gems this year?

There was the no-decision April 22, when Lannan pitched seven shutout innings against the Braves and the Nationals lost 1-0. There was the Nationals’ May 20 loss to Pittsburgh, during which Lannan allowed one run in seven innings, took a no-decision, and the Pirates won 2-1.

There have been five other quality starts when Lannan received a no-decision and two when he took losses.

“It’s not disappointing,” Lannan said. “I didn’t let it get to me, because there’s been plenty of times where I didn’t have my best day and they’ve picked me up.”

So don’t expect the Nationals’ de facto ace, still stuck on nine wins despite 18 quality starts, to go fishing for sympathy. He doesn’t need to, either; his teammates already know how many chances they’ve missed to reward Lannan.

Friday was another one of those. Despite Lannan, who turns 25 on Sunday and is closing his second full season with a surge, turning in seven strong innings for the second start in a row, the Nationals never had much of a chance. Not after Josh Willingham lost a ball in the lights, a grounder scooted between Pete Orr’s legs and Vazquez turned in one of the most dominant pitching performances against the Nationals this season, allowing one run on three hits in a 104-pitch complete game.

“He pitched amazing, really,” Orr said. “It’s just bad luck, I guess. We’ve got to make those plays, and we didn’t. And we didn’t hit the way we should’ve.”

The first inning was when the game was effectively decided; Lannan got two quick outs but gave up a hit to Chipper Jones when Willingham lost the third baseman’s liner in the lights. Then Lannan walked Brian McCann, and Yunel Escobar’s grounder eluded Orr, scoring Jones.

Lannan didn’t bounce right back - he gave up an RBI single to Garret Anderson after the error - but the inning would have been over had Orr made the play.

“I don’t want to make excuses, but we’re in a little funk here where if it can go wrong, it’s going to go wrong,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “Willingham never saw the ball. He’s lucky he didn’t get hit with it. That’s happened a couple nights in a row, and I don’t care how it’s written, how it’s portrayed - that’s a fact. … You’ve got a bullet at Orr. He’s a good second baseman. He gives you 100 percent effort. That’s a tough play. Is it an error? Yeah, but we’ve all seen that ball go through.”

Lannan was no more vindictive than Riggleman. He was strong all night, pushing his innings count for the year to 199 1/3. And after the two runs in the first inning, Lannan allowed just five more baserunners.

That was what he chose to focus on after the game, rather than whatever effect it had on his record.

“I feel good. In years to come, I’m hoping 200 innings is just an afterthought,” Lannan said. “I’m ending on a positive note.”

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