“It was so surreal,” Lannan said. “I was just pitching in the big leagues. And the next night, I’m watching ‘Sunday Night Baseball,’ and I’m sitting there eating a personal-size pizza. No one’s around. It puts things in perspective. That’s what I got: I got perspective.”
Now Lannan’s year in exile has ended. Before Friday’s game against the Cardinals, Manager Davey Johnson announced that Lannan would be called up on Saturday, which he was. When Stephen Strasburg reaches his prescribed innings limit, Lannan will replace him for a handful of starts. Strasburg’s impending shutdown has inspired endless opining, but the other end of the Nationals’ decision has received far less attention. It, too, was unprecedented.
Tuesday afternoon, Lannan sat in the visitors’ dugout of the Charlotte Knights’ ballpark and, for the first time, shared his extensive thoughts on his season. His year in Class AAA has tested him without changing him. It toughened him without embittering him. Lannan can laugh at parts of his experience and can cull positive moments. He cannot pretend he ever wants to endure another year like it.
“To be honest,” Lannan said, “there was mornings I woke up and I didn’t think it was real.”
‘I’ll never forget this’
In late winter, knowing they would cut their ace’s season short, the Nationals insured themselves by signing free agent Edwin Jackson. It gave them depth to handle Strasburg’s early end, but also crowded their rotation. At the end of spring, the Nationals had to jettison one of six capable starters.
Lannan twice had been the Nationals’ opening day starter. Only Ryan Zimmerman had spent more days in the Nationals’ clubhouse than Lannan. Over the previous four seasons, he had compiled a 4.00 ERA. He was healthy and making $5 million in 2012. Never before had a pitcher like that been shipped to the bushes. But never before had a team with an eye on contention planned to voluntarily end their best pitcher’s season early.
On the final day of spring training, the Nationals demoted Lannan. He was an established major leaguer, and he was headed to the minor leagues.
“I’m dealing with it better,” said Lannan, 27. “But I’ll never forget this. I don’t think 2012 is going to be the year that I look back and that’s going to be the definition of my career. I still have a lot more years to pitch. I’m healthy. I’ve some decent success in the big leagues. I just dealt with it better. I have a positive outlook toward it. I’m not going to let it get me down. This isn’t going to get me down. This is going to make me stronger.”