- The Washington Times - Monday, March 26, 2012

VIERA, Fla. — This has been a different spring for John Lannan. Twice a starter on Opening Day for this team on a less-stocked pitching staff, Lannan has spent much of the past two months seeing his name in trade rumors while the top four starters in the Washington Nationals’ rotation are fawned over.

But manager Davey Johnson confirmed Monday what was assumed since Chien-Ming Wang tumbled over first base 11 days ago and strained his left hamstring: Lannan is his No. 5 starter.

“John’s my guy,” Johnson said before Lannan twirled five effective innings, allowing two runs off two hits and a walk with five strikeouts in a 7-4 victory over the Houston Astros.

From the moment the Nationals added right-hander Edwin Jackson in February, how they were going to piece together the back end of their rotation with Wang, Lannan and Ross Detwiler was one of their most prevalent storylines. Wang appeared on track to seize that fifth spot, drawing raves for his performance and his strength before the injury, but the timetable for his return is unknown.

Lannan, coming off a 10-13 season with a 3.70 ERA, was the next logical candidate. General manager Mike Rizzo has maintained that he is not shopping Lannan and doesn’t view the Nationals’ plethora of pitchers as a surplus. That message, though, never had to be conveyed to Lannan.

“[Davey] doesn’t have to worry about me,” Lannan said, shrugging off the suggestion that Johnson’s confirmation cleared up his murky situation, saying only “It is what it is.”

“I want him to know that he doesn’t have to come in here and tap me on the back and say ‘Hey, it’s going to be OK,’” Lannan added. “I just don’t need that from him. … With experience, you get more comfortable, but you’ve just got to stay humble.”

That decision puts Detwiler in the bullpen, where he worked five times last year, allowing two earned runs in 10 innings. A power left-hander many saw as a lock for the 2012 rotation before the acquisitions, Detwiler is out of options so he’ll make the full-time transition to a long reliever until he’s need in the rotation.

“I’m a big routine person,” Detwiler said. “That’s what’s kind of throwing me off right now. I’m not on the same routine I’ve been on. … I have to come up with a routine that gets me ready every fourth day now or that gets me ready whenever they call down there and say my name.”

LaRoche close to return

First baseman Adam LaRoche did some running in the outfield Monday, jogging the curve of the infield several times and also in a circle once to test his injured left foot (bone bruise). It was the first turning LaRoche has been allowed to do since March 15. He’s scheduled to run the bases in a minor league game Tuesday.

The Nationals are aiming for him to be cleared to return to full duty by Thursday, keeping him on track to be on the active roster by Opening Day on April 5.

“It’s not something I can’t play with,” LaRoche said. “When it was at its peak and really hurting, I could still go play.”

LaRoche injured his foot doing baserunning drills in one of the team’s first full-squad workouts, but he’s said throughout that the conservative approach the team has taken with his recovery would not be necessary during the regular season. Even when healthy, though, Johnson informed LaRoche he’ll use him in something of a platoon to start, so as not to push him too hard coming off the foot injury as well as June shoulder surgery.

LaRoche was not pleased with the idea, saying only, “No comment. That’s how I feel about it.”

Injury updates

• Outfielder Michael Morse is scheduled to try throwing Wednesday for the first time since March 13, testing his right lat strain. Until then his status for Opening Day remains unknown.

• Closer Drew Storen is scheduled to start a throwing program Tuesday as he works back from elbow-joint inflammation.

• Amanda Comak can be reached at acomak@washingtontimes.com.

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