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Lannan Starts Perfectly in Spring Opener

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 26, 2009

KISSIMMEE, Fla., Feb. 25 -- John Lannan threw just two innings on Wednesday. He faced six batters, and retired them all. His outing counted as little more than a trial run, but he kept his fastball low in the strike zone and left with his arm feeling strong. In the first game of spring training -- the Washington Nationals lost to Houston, 6-3 -- that's all Lannan wanted. He has simple expectations for a season in which much bigger expectations await.

Starting the first game of the Grapefruit League does not ensure that Lannan will start Washington's first regular season game on April 6, but it nonetheless indicates the left-hander's ascension. In 2008, Lannan went 9-15 with a 3.91 ERA, a recent track record that compares favorably with any other arm on the staff.

Though Manager Manny Acta hasn't yet christened Lannan as the team's No. 1 starter, Lannan has assumed the role.

"Most of these guys know somebody will have to pitch Opening Day regardless," Acta said. "But it's also pretty clear that we don't have a number one like, let's say, a [Jake] Peavy or the [Derek] Lowes of the world. But he can handle it."

So far, so good. Once Lannan departed, the Astros pecked at relievers Gary Glover and Steven Shell for single runs, then broke things open with a three-run seventh against Mike Hinckley.

No Request Made

The Nationals, contrary to a published report, have neither requested nor been granted approval from Commissioner Bud Selig to forgo a rule that would require them to consider minority candidates for a general manager opening, a Major League Baseball spokesman said Wednesday.

Such a request could indicate the team is taking steps to replace General Manager Jim Bowden, whose job has been jeopardized by his role in an ongoing FBI investigation into the possible skimming of Latin American prospects' signing bonuses.

If the Nationals were to replace Bowden, they would be faced with a job opening at an unusual time and would want to expedite the process of filling it. Still, a league source said they would be expected to adhere to league-mandated guidelines for considering minority candidates should they go outside the organization for a permanent hire, but would be allowed to appoint an interim GM from within the organization without following those guidelines.

Staff writer Dave Sheinin contributed to this report.

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