Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
John Lannan was highly efficient during yesterday's six-inning start.
So Lannan's incredibly efficient six innings against Houston -- he allowed one run on two hits and needed only 66 pitches to do it -- was probably the best indication the left-hander has gotten for his readiness entering the season.
"It's something to build off of," he said.
With the Nationals wanting to see Yunesky Maya several times against big-league competition, Lannan was relegated to scrimmage duties at the minor-league complex twice in the last two weeks. In his only two major-league outings this spring, he had allowed six runs on seven hits and four walks over 7 1/3 innings.
The lefty was much better yesterday against the Astros. He jumped ahead of hitters with first-pitch strikes, kept the ball on the ground and was so efficient, he actually needed to throw 15 more pitches in the bullpen after leaving the game just to build up a little extra stamina.
"I started off not where I wanted to be," he said of his two previous outings. "You want to go out there and do well every time out. But I think those starts were necessary to get to where I am now. I'm ready to go."
Lannan has been slotted all spring as the Nationals' No. 2 starter behind Livan Hernandez. But manager Jim Riggleman said he hasn't settled on the order of his rotation beyond Hernandez quite yet, so Lannan (who started Opening Day each of the last two years) doesn't yet know when he'll make his season debut.
"That's good that they have a lot of options going into the season with the order," he said. "It doesn't really matter to me, as long as I get the ball every five days. They're going to do their best to mix it up. ... Whatever it is, I'm ready."
A couple other leftover notes from yesterday...
-- Collin Balester has pitched extremely well this spring, and with a perfect seventh inning against Houston has now retired 18 of the last 19 batters he's faced. "My confidence is growing outing by outing," he said. "I just want to keep getting better. I don't want to ever stop at a certain spot. I just want to be the best I can possibly be and do whatever the team asks me to do." What the team may have to ask Balester to do, unfortunately, is open the season in Syracuse because unlike fellow relievers Henry Rodriguez, Elvin Ramirez and Brian Broderick, he can be sent to the minors without first being offered to other clubs. "You know the rules of the game. You know what's going on," he said. "But you just try to make it as hard as possible for them to make a decision. All I can do is throw good and have them make the decision."
-- Ryan Zimmerman said he expects to return to the lineup Friday after missing more than a week with a sore groin. Zimmerman took batting practice and took grounders at third base yesterday and felt no problems. "I felt fine," he said. If all goes according to plan, Zim will play in four of the Nationals' final five games this spring, which he said is plenty of time to be ready for Opening Day. "It's not like I need a lot of at-bats anyway," he said. "Actually, I'll be kind of fresh going into the season, which is kind of nice."
-- Today is the Nationals' lone off-day of the spring. No major-leaguers are scheduled to do anything of consequence, other than a few guys rehabbing from injuries. They'll resume Grapefruit League play tomorrow night against the Tigers in Lakeland, with Jordan Zimmermann taking the mound. Every position player in camp except for Zimmerman is scheduled to make the trip.