John Lannan, 28, emerged from the Phillies dugout at Bright House Field in Clearwater this morning in a different variation of the red, white and blue uniform he has known his entire professional career. He made a beeline for the group of Nationals players gathered before stretching and batting practice. He shared hugs with Steve Lombardozzi and Tyler Moore, and chatted with Cole Kimball. And, he ran into Nationals Manager Davey Johnson, who had some choice words for his new attire.
“I told him he looks [expletive] in that uniform,” Johnson said later, laughing.
Lannan, however, looked completely at ease in the new digs. Talking before Wednesday’s game, he sounded so, too. After an “eye-opening” 2012 season that featured an extended exile in the minor leagues, Lannan is now on a team that wants him, needs him and gave him an opportunity. He and his wife welcomed their first child a month before spring training. Life is looking up. He has, he insists, let last season’s harrowing experience go.
“You can’t hold any grudges in this game,” Lannan said. “You can’t take anything personally. I want to go out there and pitch against [the Nationals] like they’re any other NL East opponent. I’m comfortable with the NL East, facing these teams. It’s just like facing any of these teams, Braves, Mets, Marlins and I get to face the Nationals.”
Being in the opposing dugout and from a different point of view for the first time in his professional career wasn’t what Lannan expected.
“Not as weird as I thought,” he said. “It happens. Guys change teams all the time. It was good to see them just now. I’ll get my ‘hi’s in now before the season starts then it’s time to go.”
Lannan had been with the Nationals since they drafted him in 2005. He started two opening days for the organization. He was a mainstay in the rotation when the Nationals were at their worst. But when they finally started winning, they shipped him and his $5 million salary to Class AAA Syracuse out of spring training last season — a move that stung the left-hander. He was their spot starter during the 2012 season and replacement in the rotation when Stephen Strasburg was shut down in September.
“I had a great time,” he said. “I’m glad that they gave me a shot, that they gave me an opportunity from the beginning. We went through some pretty difficult times there but it made you enjoy the better times even more. Looking back on it, it was a great experience. Made some great friends. Got good experiences.”
Lannan has a chance to re-establish his value this season. Lannan will make $2.5 million in 2013, with the chance to earn more in incentives. He is slotted as the team’s fifth starter. He will pitch with the Phillies and not against them, a team that tormented him throughout his career. Remove his starts against Philadelphia and his career ERA would shrink from 4.01 to 3.80.
“I went with my gut and where I had the best opportunity to pitch every five days,” he said. “… They showed interest and I jumped at the opportunity to pitch for a team that is going to be competing to win the NL East and the World Series.”