Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Lannan to Syracuse, Detwiler is 5th starter
Faced with a decision to go with an established-though-unspectacular pitcher or a promising-though-unproven pitcher at the back end of their rotation, the Nationals today made the surprising move to go with potential over experience.
The Nationals optioned left-hander John Lannan, a two-time Opening Day starter and last year's staff leader in wins and innings pitched, to Class AAA Syracuse and announced former first-round pick Ross Detwiler will begin the season as their No. 5 starter.
"It was a difficult decision, just because of who John Lannan is, what he means to the franchise and what he's done for us in the past," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "But I look at it this way: Detwiler earned the job. He deserved the job. It was a prudent baseball move, for the current Nationals and for the future Nationals."
The stunning move came as the Nationals finalized their 25-man roster in advance of Thursday's season opener against the Cubs. In addition to Lannan's demotion, the club placed outfielders Michael Morse and Rick Ankiel and right-handers Drew Storen and Chien-Ming Wang on the 15-day disabled list; placed first baseman Chris Marrero and right-hander Cole Kimball on the 60-day DL; and released right-hander Chad Durbin (who immediately signed with the Braves).
Thus, the Nationals' Opening Day roster will include three non-roster invitees to spring training (Brett Carroll, Xavier Nady and Chad Tracy) as well as relievers Ryan Mattheus and Craig Stammen (who were seemingly in competition with each other for the final available bullpen spot).
The Lannan-Detwiler decision was precipitated by Wang's hamstring injury, suffered while trying to make a play at first base on March 15. The veteran right-hander is expected to miss at least four or five turns in the rotation, according to Rizzo. Ultimately, the Nationals preferred to insert Detwiler into that rotation slot over Lannan, a $5 million pitcher who now will start Thursday's season opener at Syracuse.
Only one week ago, manager Davey Johnson declared Lannan would open the season as the No. 5 starter. "John's my guy," Johnson said on March 26.
Detwiler, though, impressed during a spot start Friday night against the Marlins, allowing one run over five innings. The Nationals decided it was finally time to see what their 2007 first-round pick could do when given a chance to start in the big leagues in April.
"It's kind of part of development, a guy screaming: 'I'm ready,'" Johnson said. "I had a change of heart. The best thing for the organization, today as well as tomorrow, is for Ross Detwiler to get the opportunity to start."
Johnson put off informing Lannan of his decision as long as possible, finally electing to speak to the 27-year-old hurler during the third inning of today's exhibition finale against the Red Sox.
"It was not an easy conversation, not one I wanted to have," the manager said.
Lannan had departed the clubhouse by the time reporters entered following the Nationals' 8-7 loss to Boston.
The franchise's Opening Day starter in 2009 and 2010, Lannan posted career highs last season with 10 wins and a 3.70 ERA. But his standing in the organization already appeared tenuous after the Nationals traded away four top prospects for left-hander Gio Gonzalez in December and then spent $11 million to sign free-agent right-hander Edwin Jackson on Feb. 1.
That made Lannan the subject of trade rumors throughout spring training, though Rizzo said to date he's received only "mild interest" from other clubs in the lefty.
Uncomfortable pitching out of the bullpen, and with one minor-league option still available, Lannan thus became the odd-man out on the final day of spring training.
Now the Nationals will have to see how an accomplished big leaguer handles life in Class AAA, and whether he'll be a viable choice for a promotion if the need for another starter arises later this year.
"There's only five starters in the rotation," Rizzo said. "We've got five guys we feel are better than him. He's got options. And he can't go to the bullpen. That was an important part of the decision making process: He's not comfortable or effective out of the bullpen. So we're going to send him to Triple-A to keep him stretched out and to be a starting pitching option for us. And I think he'll help our club sometime during the season."
Posted by Mark Zuckerman at 7:59 PM