WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 25: John Lannan #31 of the Washington Nationals pitches against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Nationals Park on August 25, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
The Washington Nationals have talked about John Lannan having an option remaining several times this winter when the logjam of starting pitchers at the major league level has been discussed, but they've also noted that sending the 27-year-old two-time Opening Day starter to Triple-A was, "'... not a good option,'" as Nats' skipper Davey Johnson told the Washington Times' Amanda Comak a few weeks back. "'It's not a good option, but it's an option,'" Johnson said, and as for the conversation that would come with such a decision, the manager admitted, "'I wouldn't want to have it,'":
"I've had a lot of tough conversations but I certainly wouldn't want to have that one. I might leave that up to the higher powers -- but that's not going to be the deciding factor on who's in the rotation.'"
The conversation Johnson hoped to avoid took place during today's game as the Nationals did finally decide to option the '05 11th Round pick to Triple-A so Ross Detwiler could start while Chien-Ming Wang works his way back from a hamstring injury. "I was going to have [the conversation] before the game," Johnson explained, "and then I said, 'No,' kind of put it off, put it off, and was going to have it right before the game and I said, 'Well, I'll do it during the game,' and did it in about the third inning."
Johnson didn't share much when asked about the left-hander's reaction to the news, instead explaining that it's tough because Lannan's "part of this team," but, he continued, "Circumstances over the winter made it much more competitive out there and [we] don't want to lose him and I don't want to put him in a situation that he isn't comfortable in, it's not a good option, but it's the best one out there." The decision, which came several days after Johnson had named Lannan his fifth starter was, "... really more about Ross Detwiler. Ross did a good job last year also in the rotation. He's had an outstanding Spring. There's probably going three or four starts before Chien-Ming [Wang] comes back, and Lannan, the manager explained, "... is not really suited to pitch out of the pen. He also had an option and [we want] to keep all of our quality pitchers in house. Very difficult decision. Tough one."
"I respect and like John Lannan a lot," Johnson continued, "it's really about giving Detwiler an opportunity to get a few starts in before Chien-Ming comes back and [retaining] John Lannan in case there's any other hiccups in the rotation. It was a tough day and not the way I like to end up Spring Training."
Lannan's role going forward? "He's a very luxurious insurance policy," the 69-year-old manager told reporters, "He doesn't have to prove anything. He's a quality big league pitcher. I know what he can do. We have high hopes for Detwiler. We're going to give an opportunity to get a few more starts in the big leagues, more establish himself. It's all about what's best right now for the organization and as tough as it was, it was the right decision."
"Just all the circumstances surrounding it, it was not an easy conversation, not one that I wanted to have," Johnson said, "But when you look at all the variables and all the options, you're retaining him. It wouldn't have been a good fit for him in the bullpen. I know he doesn't like it out there, even when he's in the rotation, you know, warming up in the bullpen. So he'll be the Opening Day pitcher [in] Syracuse and be ready any problem we have. It's just... that's the tough part of baseball."
As for 26-year-old left-hander Ross Detwiler, the Nats' 07 1st Round pick who impressed last year when Davey Johnson moved him from the bullpen back to the rotation late in the season, the manager said, "When I decided on Lannan staying in the rotation, Detwiler was having a better Spring. He had a better Spring last year. We still don't know exactly how good Det can be, and there's a window there with... I think Chien-Ming Wang's going to come back and be outstanding... It's kind of part of development. When a guy's screaming, 'I'm ready,' 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 said, "I like John Lannan. Johnny gives me a good outing, he's a battler. I wouldn't call it the easy way out, it was the hard way out, but all things considered, it's the right move for the organization."
Detwiler's got, "... outstanding command, his stuff is all the grades above major league average. He's healthy. I put him in the pen like I did last year, when I called him up I had him in the pen, but as soon as I could I got him in the rotation. That's what you do with young pitchers you want to see where they're at and how much better than can get from experience, and it takes a while. To not let him have that experience right at this point in his career, that would be bad also."