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Posted at 05:45 PM ET, 03/10/2012

John Lannan finds a rhythm in short start


(Toni L. Sandys - THE WASHINGTON POST)
You could not tell from the box score, but John Lannan found more satisfaction in his second spring training start today than his first. Against the Tigers in Lakeland, in a split-squad game that ended 5-5 after 10 innings, Lannan threw 56 pitches in only two innings and gave up two runs on a walk and four hits, including a home run to Brandon Inge. But Lannan found more of a rhythm, and he spotted his fastball where he wanted.

“The line, you can’t look too much into it this early,” Lannan said. “You do want to put up zeros. You do want to go four innings, 65 pitches. But if not, you just got to kind of look at the positives.”

Lannan struck out four batters, including Austin Jackson and Prince Fielder, both looking at sinking fastballs. The out pitch to Fielder was especially sharp, a sinker at the knees that had Fielder protesting with the home plate umpire.

Lannan allowed several hard-hit balls, but he couldn’t be faulted for one of the four hits, a bloop that fell between three defenders in shallow left-center.

“They’ve got a pretty good lineup,” said bench coach Randy Knorr, who made the trip while Davey Johnson stayed back. “They really do. And I thought he handled them pretty good. The ball that fell, that was a big one. Made him throw more pitches, but I thought he handled himself pretty good and he threw the ball well.”

While he gave up the homer to Inge on a fastball he left up in the strike zone, Lannan mostly wanted to improve his approach with two strikes. Brennan Boesch and Alex Avila both ripped hard hits off Lannan when behind in the count.

“The only thing I’d work on now is with two strikes I need to expand the zone a little bit,” Lannan said. “I was trying to throw strikes so much that with two strikes, I kind of left the ball pretty fat so they could put it in play. Besides that, I felt pretty good.”

Lannan faced a loaded Tigers lineup that also included Miguel Cabrera and Delmon Young, a challenge he welcomed.

“I think that’s pretty close to what they’re going to have out there opening day,” Lannan said. “I haven’t faced those guys in a while. It was good to face those type of guys and know their tendencies and know that’s a pretty good lineup. You’d rather face the best.”

In Viera against the Mets, Chien-Ming Wang, Lannan’s competition for the fifth spot in the rotation, also allowed two runs in two innings after breezing through a 1-2-3 first.

>>> Rick Ankiel received the day off with tightness in his hamstring. Manager Davey Johnson called it a “minor” ailment.

>>> Back in Viera, Adam LaRoche made his first start in a major league game since last May. Playing first base, LaRoche went 1 for 2 with an RBI single against Mets starter R.A. Dickey. The Nats beat the Mets, 8-2.

>>> Also in Viera, Ryan Zimmerman continued his scalding start to the spring. He went 2 for 3 with two RBIs, making him 5 for 9 with a homer, a double and four RBIs.

>>> The Nationals sent the game against the Tigers to extra innings thanks to home run in the seventh and eighth innings off the Tigers’ best relievers. Corey Brown, who also made a spectacular diving catch in right field, took closer Jose Valverde deep to right. In the eighth, light-hitting shortstop Andres Blanco drilled a homer to right off Joaquin Benoit.

“That was my first time I hit a home run in spring training,” Blanco said. “I won’t forget that one. That was pretty nice. I knew he didn’t want to throw me a strike. He didn’t want to walk me.”

(In point of fact, Blanco actually hit a spring training home run in 2009.)

>>> The Nationals managed three hits, all singles, against Cy Young winner Justin Verlander in four innings. Roger Bernadina led off with a single before he got caught stealing, Eury Perez grounded a ball back up the middle and Danny Espinosa reached on a broken-bat infield single that Miguel Cabrera mishandled.

>>> In the seventh, Tigers right field prospect Avisail Garcia made the best play I’ve see all spring. With a Blanco on second, he tracked down a fly ball on the right field line, making the catch while toward the fence. He steadied himself, rotated his body and threw a one-hop bullet to third base to nab Blacno. An incredible throw and an incredible play.

By  |  05:45 PM ET, 03/10/2012

 
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