PHILADELPHIA — In one moment, John Lannan was making one of the best defensive plays of his season and possibly his career: diving and completing a near-impossible glove flip to catcher Wilson Ramos. He saved a run, got a force out at home and looked poised to get out of the third inning Saturday night — damaged, but alive.
In the next, he was walking Philadelphia Phillies starter Roy Oswalt and watching a nearly endless string of Phillies round the bases. In a 11-3 blowout loss to the Phillies, Lannan’s three-inning outing was just one of the many examples of futility on a night in which nothing went right for the Washington Nationals. They also had three costly errors and plenty of other miscues. Seven of the Phillies’ first eight runs were unearned, a record for the Nationals since arriving in D.C. in 2005.
“Against a club like this, you give them extra outs and it’s asking for a lot,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson after his team dropped to 4-5 on their current road trip and 57-62 on the season.
“You just can’t do that against a good ballclub.”
In essence, the entire game centered upon a nightmarish third inning. The Phillies scored five runs on just three hits as shortstop Ian Desmond made a throwing error, and Lannan issued three walks, one intentional. It also brought the end of Lannan’s night. In three innings, he allowed seven runs — with only one earned — on four hits and five walks.
Even the inning’s lone highlight caused trouble for Lannan as he aggravated the patella tendon in his left knee during his diving flip to Ramos. Lannan grimaced as he made his way back to the mound but insisted he could stay in. Then he walked two of the next five batters, including Oswalt for the second time, and finally escaped the inning after 40 pitches.
“Everything felt good coming into the game,” Lannan said. “I just wasn’t making pitches when I needed to. I’m not going to use that play as an excuse. The knee felt a little uncomfortable, hard to push off a little bit, but I’ve still got to make pitches.”
The Nationals thought they’d left games where they couldn’t buy a lucky break and every errant move proved costly behind them. Allowing seven unearned runs could be considered the mark of a poor defensive team. The only other team in the major leagues to allow that many this season was the Cubs — owners of an NL-worst .978 fielding percentage.
But the Nationals are not a bad defensive team. They entered Saturday with a .983 fielding percentage, which is right at the major league average.
“This was an abberration, I think,” Johnson said.
“I think we’re mature enough now that, when it happens, it’s done and we move on to the next,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. “We try and get out of the inning with whatever we can. It’s just things that we have to cleanup. We know that.”
Still, the scenes of frustration and despair were everywhere. A ball bouncing off the glove of Danny Espinosa and into center field. A throw from Desmond sailing high and requiring Michael Morse to stretch off the first base bag to get it. A hard grounder Morse bobbled at first base. A single to right field eating up Jayson Werth. All three baserunners who reached on errors scored.
“I’ve just got to make pitches,” Lannan said, taking the blame for the shellacking. “No matter what happens out there. They make great plays for you. It’s my job to make pitches and I didn’t — bottom line.”
For as much as Lannan has matured — focusing on his sinker, pounding the strike zone, inducing early contact and limiting his walks — he can’t seem to do any of it in Philadelphia. Ejected from his major league debut here five years ago, Lannan’s fortunes haven’t improved since. He is now 0-5 with a 7.40 ERA at Citizens Bank Park and his WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) is 2.18, compared to 1.38 everywhere else.
“He doesn’t want to walk guys,” Zimmerman said. “I don’t know what it is. I’m not a pitcher, but he doesn’t want to walk them as much as anyone else. We still have a lot of confidence in him. He’s been one of our most consistent pitchers all year.”
The Nationals make one more trip to Philadelphia this season. If the Nationals rotation stays on schedule until then, Lannan would pitch in the first game of that series. One way or another, he’ll have to get past this outing and rebound.
“Turn the page,” Lannan said. “Just turn the page. Get over it.”