Friday, May 14, 2010

Zim's in top form, Lannan's not

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
John Lannan labored as the night went on, but he was bailed out by a robust lineup.
DENVER -- It's easy to forget on a night like this, when Ryan Zimmerman was peppering the left-field bleachers at Coors Field, that the Nationals' No. 3 hitter missed nearly half of his team's games through the season's first month.

It was only two weeks ago that Zimmerman was still recovering from his second hamstring strain of the young season, a nagging injury that kept him out of the lineup for 12 of the Nats' first 23 games.

For some players, that kind of prolonged layoff (especially so early in the year) would necessitate several more weeks of game action to get back into peak form. Almost like a second spring training.

For Zimmerman, the transition has been seamless. And with one of the best offensive performances of his career tonight -- 3-for-5, two homers, six RBI in the Nationals' 14-6 thumping of the Rockies -- Zim proved once again that he plays in a stratosphere reserved for only the sport's elite.

Of course, this is a guy who stepped to the plate in Philadelphia after a five-day layoff last month and still managed to club a game-winning homer.

"The good thing about my injury before was, I could still hit," he said. "If I wouldn't have been able to hit anything for a week, I think it would have been difficult. But I was able to stay on top and stay sharp, so when I did come back I wouldn't really miss that much."

Based on Zimmerman's overall stat line, you'd never know he was sidelined that much. He leads the Nationals in homers (eight), doubles (11) and total bases (65) and is tied with Josh Willingham with 22 RBI. Since returning from the second hamstring injury April 30, he's reaching base at a .379 clip and slugging .745, having smacked six home runs in 13 games.

In case anyone forgot amid all the attention going to Tyler Clippard and Matt Capps and Livan Hernandez and Ivan Rodriguez, Zimmerman remains the best player on this team. Sometimes, we tend to take that for granted, even if Jim Riggleman insists he doesn't.

"As good as Ryan is, it's never taken for granted you're going to go out there and produce," the manager said. "Because it's always a tough challenge."

Speaking of tough challenges, John Lannan sure faced one tonight. As difficult as it is to come back from 10 days' rest with elbow inflammation, try doing it in the pitcher-unfriendly confines of Coors Field, in cold and rainy conditions.

For four innings, Lannan managed to overcome all those obstacles and pitch effectively, even if he wasn't in top form. Through the fourth, he had allowed only two hits, nary a run. But in some ways, his teammates' four-run rally in the top of the fifth derailed his evening. While sitting cold on the bench during that prolonged half-inning, Lannan felt his arm begin to stiffen up.

"I tried to heat it, stretch it, and it just wouldn't loosen up for me," he said. "When that happens, it's kind of hard for me to finish up my pitches."

The difference in the fifth inning was dramatic. Lannan faced six batters. Four reached, and the two that didn't still hit line drives. So Riggleman pulled his starter one out shy of qualifying for the win.

"The first four, I felt good," Lannan said. "And then it tightened up. When that happens, it's kind of tough to control, to really extend. My ball was up, and I wasn't able to make big pitches when I needed to."

Lannan insisted he still comes out of this game encouraged. He said he wasn't in any pain. He completed his postgame exercises with no problems. He expects the arm to feel fine tomorrow when he wakes up.

His manager will withhold judgment for another 24 hours.

"I'll be more confident if he tells me tomorrow he feels fine," Riggleman said. "I'm not going to assume anything until I talk to him tomorrow. That will be the test."

The Nationals can't afford for Lannan's injury to linger. And even if he's healthy, they can't afford for him to pitch the way he has so far this season (a 6.51 ERA, 75 baserunners in 37 1/3 innings). With Hernandez dominating and Stephen Strasburg on the way, they may not need Lannan to serve as staff ace. But they do need him to serve as a key member of the rotation, one who gives his team a chance to win every time out.

Lannan didn't do that tonight. He was saved by an explosive offense that scored a season-high 14 runs and finally enjoyed a lopsided victory following eight straight games decided by two runs or less.

For that, he can thank Zimmerman most of all. We may take him for granted sometimes, but there's a certain comfort in knowing your best all-around player is at the absolute top of his game right now.

26 comments:

Aussie Gus said...

Dude, go to bed.

Kevin said...

I've never understood this - so lannan pitches 4 2/3 innings and leaves with basically a 6-4 lead (since he was charged w/ all 4 runs in the 5th), and he doesn't get the win.

But Slaten comes in and pitches to 3 guys - getting 2 of them out - and he gets the win.

Why does this make sense? I know the rule is a starter has to pitch 5 to qualify for the win....i just frequently think that rule doesn't always make sense.

Anonymous8 said...

Gotta love a good blowout! The end result great. Back of the bullpen gets to rest.

My only criticism was I could see Lannan had nothing in the 5th and Riggleman stayed with his heart instead of his head trying to get Lannan the W and should have pulled him quicker.

Luckily all turned out well for the Nats on this rainy evening!

Anonymous said...

Lannan needed to finish out the 5th inning to get the win. Hense the saying "five and fly" when a starter has a big lead and comes up with the old mystery tightness of the arm in the 6th inning.

My gosh....Bruney had a 1-2-3 inning. Guess we found a role for him.....mopup.

Bowdenball said...

I think by the end of this season Zimmerman will widely be considered one of the ten best players in the game, possibly one of the five best. He's an absolute star who is still 2-3 years from peaking.

Nine million per is WAY under market for this guy at this point. Comparing it to the Phils' recent deal for Howard sure puts a smile on my face.

Section 222 said...

Anon8, I agree. Riggleman should have pulled Lannan a batter or even two batters earlier. W-L records for pitchers are stupid and meaningless (as shown by the stupid and meaningless 5 inning rule. What counts is winning the game, and risking that in the hopes of Lannan getting out of the 5th inning was a mistake. Luckily the Nats' bats were alive last night, or that mistake could have been very costly.

Anonymous said...

Mark,

I am glad you wrote a story with this bent, many opf the game stories contain only the offensive exploits..."HURRAY LOOK AT US WE SCORED 14 RUNS" instead of "CRAP JOHN LANNAN IS ABIG CONCERN", thanks for not wearing Nats colored glasses!

Anonymous said...

Lannan has never had big league stuff. He has always had to be razor sharp to get by. Any slip up from him means a good shellacking. Also, the hitters aren't dumb. They watch film. So they lean out and rope that little crap sinker of his. Staff ace? Hardly. He could be out of the league in a month

Bowdenball said...

Anonymous:

That's absurd. It's fair to say he's overachieved/gotten lucky, but not having big league stuff? His FIP (fielding-independent pitching) numbers are average or even slightly above average over the last three years. He gets a high percentage of ground balls. He's shown decent control throughout his career until the extenuating circumstances of this season. Not amazing, but certainly decent.

Not even his biggest critics- you aside, apparently- would say he doesn't belong in the bigs. He's not a #1 starter, nor a #2 or #3 starter, but he's a perfectly adequate back of the rotation type guy. Which is exactly what he will be on the 2011 Nats.

Anonymous8 said...

I caught a lot of heat during Spring Training when I called John a #4 starter at best if he was in the rotation of the 2009 playoff teams and I backed it up with stats. I still believe on this team he can be an effective #4 or #5 if he really is healthy. He still isn't right.

What concerns me about him now is that LH hitters are opening up their stances and hitting him real well. That is very troubling when you are a LH pitcher and not effective against LH hitters.

John is arbitration eligible after the season. He also dumped his agent that brought him into the league. This is a huge season for him personally but as we see this team can't wait for guys like Marquis and Lannan that aren't right physically.

My only advice to Riggles and Rizzo is that they better make sure this guy can do the job and start putting the team ahead of individuals.

Sunderland said...

Bowdenball, well said, right on.

Last year, among qualified NL starters, Lannan placed 23rd in ERA and 32nd in WHIP.

Considering there are 16 NL teams, and presumably 5 starters per team, that makes 80 guys who are NL starters at any given time.

If Lannan does not have big league stuff, then obviously neither does 60% of the NL's pitchers?

Shraf said...

As much as I like John Lannan as a person, I do not see him even as a starter in the playoffs in the future in 2011 or further. He simply does not have the stuff to get people out on a consistent basis. Advanced stats have shown that he's been extremely lucky the past two years to even have the type of success he's had and I honestly think some of that is catching up with him right now.

Anonymous said...

John Lannan, the 2010 edition is basically the 2008 edition of Jason Bergman, so we shall see if by 2012, Lannan is in the minors or with another team.

Rachel said...

sigh...

It has nothing to do with Lannan's "stuff". Dude has big league stuff and he could hang in the playoffs. The league would have figured him out long, long ago if that were the reason he's getting hit.

Bottom line: He's lost his command because he's hurt. period.

Aeoliano said...

222,

You knnnnoooow what I am going to say. Pulling a stiff armed Lannan for Batista an extra batter or two? The GUY HAS NOW ALLOWED FIVE HOME RUNS? Including a grand slam. He finds it difficult to HOLD even huge leads. Yet Riggleman keeps trotting him out there?

Batista is certainly far worst than Bergmann ever was and borders on the worst anyone ever saw of Gascanrahan? Are you kidding? That's why Riggleman left him in there because he knew that was who he would have to call and risk losing the game to Batista land. And in fact that almost happened were it not for Slaten, Bruney and a deluge of runs in the eighth?

When is this guy Batista going to get sent to Syracuse where he was originally signed to pitch and where he truly belongs.

Anonymous said...

I believe we are giving Batista a chance to succeed because he is a Rizzo guy just like Bruney...you know we had those guys with JB now we have them with another GM. We wil have to deal with them until they break down via injury.

Steve M. said...

Aeoliano - I know what you are getting at, but Lannan was spent. He had nothing left in the tank.

They had to go to the bullpen even though I agree the front end of the bullpen is not consistent (substitute a different work or 2 if you want). With all the arms in Syracuse and Harrisburg, Rizzo needs to start fortifying the front end of the bullpen as well as figure out what Lannan's true issues are.

I am not as worried about the starters overall with Strasburg coming and then the availability in July of Marquis and Wang and then the future looks real good with Jordan Zimmermann in the wings as a real #2 pitcher in this rotation. If Lannan can't do it, then they can go back to Matt Chico.

That 20+ run deficit from last year in offense is probably looking a little better after last night.

What I like about this team is finding a way to win.

Not to change subjects, but now is the time for Rizzo to announce an extension for Adam Dunn. With Dunn back in the groove and a big contributor to the success here, it is time to lock him up.

nats rising said...

Mark,

Any idea how many hits opposing pitchers have against the Nats this year? It seems like more than a few.

Doc said...

Hey the Adam man is quoted as saying he'd be willing to sign for a two-year deal, although he'd like a 3-year contract. Earth to Frankie, lets get it Dunn!!!!

Steve M. said...

Let's get Dunn, done!!!! He probably plays better knowing he is long-term!!!!!

Mark Zuckerman said...

Nats Rising: Opposing pitchers are batting (gulp!) .257 against the Nats this season (18-for-70 with three doubles). They've drawn two walks, struck out 18 times and scored nine runs. For comparison's sake, Nats pitchers are hitting .137 (10-for-73) with two doubles, zero walks and 22 strikeouts.

seamhead37 said...

I want to know when people in this town are going to start coming out to Nationals Park. When we go on the road, it looks to me as though the home team gets a lot of support. As in the last game against the Mets, a midweek night, when there were more than 30,000 in the stands. The team should have convinced people by now that they're for real - what's everyone waiting for? BTW, not that I'm a dreamer, but this morning I checked out the standings, and noted that we're now tied for the wild card spot.

Steve M. said...

Mark - That stat looks familiar. Oh forget it, I thought the .137 batting average was Justin Maxwell's average combined with Willy Tavares.

Yep, .257 pitcher's batting average could be tops of all time.

I was wondering if McCatty's strategy was let the opposing pitchers hit so they will be tired after running the bases? (Just kidding)

Steve M. said...

seamhead37 - The Nats aren't tied for the Wild Card. They have the Wild Card outright 1/2 game ahead of the Reds.

Anonymous said...

I was listening to the sports guys on 980 about 20 minutes ago. They're talking about Zimmerman, and Loverro points out that Zimm is running up big numbers "even though he missed 5 or 6 games this season."

You'd think Loverro would do some very basic research on Topic One before he goes on the air.

Anonymous said...

Loverro was at the buffet for the entirety of those other games Zim missed. That's why he didn't notice.

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