Lannan Receives Plenty Of Help

By Marc Carig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 2, 2007

Good or bad, Washington Nationals starting pitcher John Lannan said it didn't matter. As he entered last night's game with the Cincinnati Reds, he simply wanted to give fans something else to talk about.

Indeed, the rookie's major league career -- a span of six days -- had been defined by his ejection from his big league debut after he hit Philadelphia's Chase Utley and Ryan Howard with back-to-back fastballs last Thursday.

Last night, Lannan's second appearance on a major league mound was much less eventful and much more pleasant. He kept the Reds hitless into the fourth inning and the Nationals provided plenty of run support in a 7-2 win.

"I'll never forget these first two starts," said Lannan, the lineup cards from both appearances waiting in his locker to be framed later. "I'm just going to build on every start."

A crowd of 28,944 on a clear evening at RFK Stadium saluted the left-hander with a loud ovation as he exited in the sixth inning. He had just allowed RBI singles to Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn -- his only blemishes of the night -- as he fell just one out short of recording a quality start.

"It was better than the boos in Philly," said Lannan, who allowed two runs in 5 2/3 innings while showing much better command of his fastball than he did during his dubious debut. "It was great. I was glad that they were behind me."

In the days after his first start Lannan heard constant questions from friends and family. He denied that he had intentionally hit the batters and endured some razzing from his teammates. He avoided watching highlight shows on television for fear that he would be forced to relive those two pitches, the first of which broke Utley's hand.

But after his outing, Lannan said he was most proud of the fact that he had moved on from the incident, which he said translated into better composure on the mound.

"Everything left my mind as soon as I stepped on the field today," Lannan said.

Meanwhile, Lannan's teammates took pressure off the pitcher by providing an early seven-run cushion. For the second straight night, the Nationals managed to bat around in an inning. The offensive outburst -- which came in the first off Reds starter Bronson Arroyo -- resulted in a 4-0 lead, keyed by Ryan Church's two-run single, which gave him his third multi-RBI effort in his last five games.

The battering continued in the second inning when Kearns delivered a two-run homer, hitting an Arroyo mistake pitch off the facade of the second deck, just above the sign that marks section 445 in left-center field.

"Being in a good position to hit, that's what it all boils down to," said Kearns, who has benefited from a recent adjustment in which he holds his hands farther away from his body while hitting.

The shot capped the offensive surge and spelled the end for Arroyo, who departed after 1 2/3 innings. He surrendered seven runs on seven hits in the shortest outing of his career, beating his previous short start of two innings, also against Washington, on May 21.

While the Nationals rocked the veteran Arroyo, Lannan enjoyed a relatively smooth outing.

Twice, Lannan enjoyed a pitching perk that comes with playing at RFK Stadium. Jeff Conine drilled a ball to deep center field that would have been a homer in nearly every other ballpark. Instead, it was harmless flyout, just like another deep shot that Dunn also sent to center.

Conine "hit that ball pretty far, pretty hard," Lannan said. "You can really sense that this park is bigger and it does help you out as a pitcher."

Lannan also survived a bizarre base running episode in the fourth after Cincinnati's Brandon Phillips singled with two outs and took off to steal second.

Phillips got a great jump and Nationals catcher Brian Schneider didn't bother with a risky throw, instead tossing the ball back to Lannan. Phillips never stopped, rounded second and headed for third. A second passed before Lannan realized that Phillips was still running.

Lannan turned and fired a quick throw to third base, but Phillips just beat Ryan Zimmerman's tag to record, on the same play, stolen bases Nos. 20 and 21 this season.

But Lannan retired the next batter, ensuring that the double steal remained a side note on a night that belonged to the rookie.

Nationals Manager Manny Acta said he would have liked to see Lannan get ahead in the count more, but said the pitcher showed composure in managing his emotions.

"He did make pitches when he had to," Acta said. Meanwhile, Schneider said Lannan met another challenge.

"I kind of wanted to see how he would react to throwing balls inside," Schneider said. "He was good, obviously."

For Lannan, it was good enough to provide fans a more gratifying point of discussion: his first career victory.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company