Friday, August 13, 2010

For Lannan, it's all about confidence

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
John Lannan tossed seven strong innings to beat the Diamondbacks.
John Lannan has always had confidence in his ability. It's the reason he was able to emerge from the pack as an 11th round draft pick, advance through three levels of the Nationals' farm system in four months and then find himself striking out Barry Bonds later that season with the Giants slugger sitting on 755 homers.

But some portion of that confidence had to disappear two months ago when Lannan, boasting a 5.76 ERA and serving up base hits at an astonishing rate, found himself driving to Harrisburg. The guy who took the ball on Opening Day each of the last two seasons, the guy who followed Barack Obama on the mound at Nationals Park on April 5, was suddenly nothing but a Class AA pitcher.

"It was a wake-up call," he said. "Everything's a lot different down there. I'm just glad to be back."

Back, not only in body but in spirit as well. The John Lannan who tossed seven innings of two-run ball tonight, beating the Diamondbacks 4-2, looked and felt like a big-league pitcher. He hit his spots, working both the inside and outside corners of the plate. And most importantly, he stood tall on the mound, believing once again he was good enough to get major-league batters out.

"I just feel good out there," he said. "I feel confident in my stuff."

A confident Lannan is an effective Lannan. And an effective Lannan, now 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA since his return, is a big piece to the Nationals' puzzle. He may never again start on Opening Day -- who are we kidding, that role is reserved for Stephen Strasburg for at least the next six years -- but he can certainly start sometime during the season's first week and play an important role on a contending club. This is, after all, a guy with a 4.15 ERA in 87 career starts. Ace material? No. Serviceable big-league starter? Yes.

"You know, he gave us 206 innings last year, has led the club in innings the last couple years, and starts and consistency," Jim Riggleman said. "It's two wins in a row now. Hopefully it's something we can build on with John."

Perhaps Lannan's biggest strength is that opposing hitters are completely underwhelmed by him. They watch him from the on-deck circle, throwing 88 mph fastballs around the strike zone, and they start licking their chops.

But when he's on, when his sinker is darting down and away from right-handed batters and his breaking ball is darting down and away from left-handed hitters, he can get anyone in a big-league uniform to bounce a routine grounder to third.

"He has a 5.00 ERA for a reason, I guess," said Arizona's Mark Reynolds, who went 0-for-2 with a walk and two groundballs to third. "Today he had one of those games where he was hitting the corners and not really leaving much to hit."

Lannan will happily let the opposition keep talking about him that way, provided he continues to prove them wrong. And provided his teammates still believe in him, which they do.

"We all have confidence in him," Ryan Zimmerman said. "It would be different if he came up for a couple of starts and did well and then came down. But we've all been with him for ... two years now. We know what he's capable of doing. We also know that everyone goes through things like that, especially pitchers. We had confidence he could come back."

Do three solid starts ensure Lannan's resurrection is complete? No, he's going to need to sustain this over the next month-and-a-half.

But the positive results so far, from a guy who two weeks ago was an afterthought and presumed by some to have stood on a big-league mound for the last time, are as encouraging as anything the Nationals have seen since the All-Star break.

"He looked really good tonight," Zimmerman said. "That's good for us."


Traveler8 said...

Not much of that game looked like Lannan was pitching it - lots fewer ground balls than usual, but we will certainly take it.

We are also wondering if Lannan has ever gotten that much run support early on.

Finally, shoutout to Section 222 - your barbershop rendition of SSB was,once again, a great pleasure.

Mark Zuckerman said...

Traveler8: Only five of Lannan's 21 outs were in the air. 11 outs via groundballs. The most unusual thing was probably the five strikeouts.

Oh, and I second your review of Section 222's national anthem. Their version definitely ranks among the top 5 I've heard here this season.

Doc said...

I hope Lannan makes it into a long career. He seems like a hard-working and focused athlete. There were times this season that it looked like his stay in the Bigs was nearing an end.

Traveler8 said...

Mark, you are correct, of course -I am reacting more to the first inning than anything, which had us wondering what imposter had borrowed Lannan's jersey.

Section 222 said...

Many thanks @Traveler8 and Mark. Doing the anthem at Nats Park never gets old. And best of all, once again, we inspired the Nats to a victory (last time we sang, in early July, Dunn had his three homer game against the Padres).

It was really a pleasant evening out there in every way -- great temperature for baseball and a really nice start for Lannan, some timely hitting (at least early on), no errors by Desmond, no errant throws from Zim, and solid relief work from Burnett. Yes, Riggs did his double-switch thing, and wholesale defensive substitutions, but these made sense, particularly giving Burnett the chance to pitch two innings against all of AZ's lefties. Awfully nice to not have much to complain about in the Nats' performance tonight.

Anonymous said...

Pitched well, but I'm not sympathetic to the confidence theme. This guy is a professional baseball player, and as such, it is his responsibility to ensure that he is physically and mentally ready to perform every time he goes on the field. Lacking confidence is just as debilitating as an arm injury, but if he is blaming his miserable season on lacking confidence, I'm not one bit sympathetic. Let's give the ball to someone with more confidence. [Of course, I've got the confidence, but no heat, no control, no . . . lol]

Unkle Wheez said...

I can't believe I missed this game today. I was watching the Redskins. That was a fun game to watch for a change. I am just upset that I miss Lannan pitch 7 innings. Hopefully Marquis can do something similar, and we can go on a win streak.

Sue Dinem said...

Of course, keeping his pitches down in the zone also helps ;-)

Sec3MySofa said...

"He has a 5.00 ERA for a reason, I guess," said Arizona's Mark Reynolds, who went 0-for-2 with a walk and two groundballs to third.
Yeah, and there's a reason you guys are 46-70.

Anonymous said...

@UnkleWeeze -- Redskins? What league are they in? Who pitched? lol

Post a Comment