Ask Davey Johnson how John Lannan gets himself in trouble and he'll tell you, as he did in a press conference after a September 16th start against the team formerly known as the Florida Marlins. The then-26-year-old lefty, who turned 27 later that month, gave up three runs early against the Fish that day, surrendering a line drive RBI single to center by catcher John Buck and an RBI line drive double to right by Mike Stanton before a ground ball single to center Gaby Sanchez made it a 3-0 game after two and a half innings. Lannan received no run-support that night in a 3-0 loss.
It was one of a string of seven starts from mid-August through mid-September in which the Nationals' '05 11th Round pick had struggled, going (1-6) over the stretch and receiving little support from the offense (just 10 runs in 7 games) or defense as he gave up 46 hits, 27 runs, 16 earned, 18 walks and 5 HR's in 34.2 IP over which he struck out just 16 batters. Asked if it was hard to see Lannan struggle down the stretch, Davey Johnson said, "Yeah. We all expect a lot out of him. He's got good stuff. He's pitched out of some jams, making quality pitches, and in this league, occasionally, if you leave one out over the plate and up, you're going to get hit."
"He gave up three runs in six innings against a pretty good hitting ballclub, but we just didn't give him too much help," Johnson said. As for Lannan's own issues, the manager said, "He sometimes overthrows. I like it when he's using that sinker and not trying to overthrow it, he gets a lot of ground balls. And when you see line drives to the outfield, or wherever, the fastball's up. But he's got great stuff."
While Lannan struggled with a 4.74 ERA, 5.22 FIP, 3.65 BB/9 and a .311 BAA in Sept/October, 25-year-old left-hander Ross Detwiler had one of the strongest stretches of his career after Nats' skipper Davey Johnson moved him back into the starting rotation. Detwiler ended the year on a high note, going (2-0) in three starts in which he gave up just 10 hits and 2 runs, 2 ER in 19.0 IP. The Nationals' manager saw something he liked in the Nats' '07 1st Round pick.
"We've had high hopes [for Ross Detwiler] ," Johnson said after he'd decided to move Detwiler back to the rotation in August, "He's very poised out there, makes quality pitches, I mean he had a great Spring Training. By all [accounts] he probably should have made the club out of Spring Training. He was probably the best pitcher in the Spring." Asked if the lefty had done enough down the stretch to earn a spot in the 2012 starting rotation, Johnson said, "there's a lot of guys hungry to get into this rotation and we've seen it in September."
"And I don't care if it's any time of the year," Johnson continued, "[It's] big league ballgames. You're pitching against clubs that are trying to establish their year. Every player that goes out there is trying to do well enough to play another year or win a pennant. And the effort that you're seeing [from Detwiler] is outstanding and he's definitely in the picture in the starting rotation."
Lannan finished his fifth season with Washington with a (10-13) record and a career-best 3.70 ERA and 4.28 FIP over 33 GS and 184.2 IP, with more K's, 106 (5.17 K/9) than he's collected since 2008 when he struck out 117 in 182.0 IP (5.79 K/9). Lannan led the Nationals in wins, games started and innings pitched. The lefty walked 76 BB (3.70 BB/9), but led the Nats in GB% (54.1%), which was the 6th highest GB% among NL pitchers and he had the second-highest double play total in the National League.
After the Nationals acquired Gio Gonzalez in a trade with Oakland, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo said Gonzalez would likely be slotted between the Nats' power right-handers Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, and after that, Rizzo said, it will be, "... 25-year-old Ross Detwiler, you've got a 31-year-old Chien-Ming Wang [and] you've got a 27-year-old John Lannan. That's three guys that we feel that give us great depth and great ability-levels." All three figure in the Nationals' plans. Rizzo told reporters earlier this winter, "They are three quality pitchers, so I don't see them not being on the big league club. But there's going to be competition so we'll see how that all pans out during Spring Training."
Chien-Ming Wang's not moving to the bullpen is he? With the time it takes him to get lose and the injury history. Both left-handers (unless one's dealt? And will the Nats trade another pitcher after dealing MLB-ready arms in Tom Milone and Brad Peacock?) will likely be battling it out for the fifth and final spot in the 2012 Opening Day rotation. Ross Detwiler has no more options, making the decision more difficult yet. "We're going to have great competition for rotation starters," the Nationals' general manager told the ESPN980 Radio hosts Thom Loverro and Kevin Sheehan, "We've never had that problem here since I've been around."