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Nationals' Lannan has established himself despite lack of fastball
He realized just then that at least a few people in the Washington organization had at least a little faith in him. In the spring of 2007, Lannan received a telephone call from Brown.
"I still remember the call," Lannan said recently, "because it changed the way I looked at everything. He told me that he wanted me in the big leagues by July, and it took me by shock. When he said that, I didn't realize until then how close I really was. The way he said it made me realize it was all closer than I thought. I still remember the feeling I got when I got off the phone -- like, whoa. Because it was all right there."
"To his credit," said Brown, who remembered the phone call, "he bought into it. And things moved along really quickly for him from there."
More to his repertoire
Shortly after cracking the big leagues on July 26, 2007 -- he'd started the year in Class A and shot up to Class AAA -- Lannan assembled the first pieces of a unique career. Lannan had thrown just 185 career big league pitches prior to Aug. 6, 2007, the night where San Francisco's Barry Bonds was one homer shy of the all-time record. One 400-foot blast, and Lannan would earn the ignominious role in a highlight for eternity. But he pitched to Bonds the same way he pitched to, say, Randy Winn, and Bonds finished the game 0 for 3.
Since then, Lannan has evolved, adding a slider to his repertoire and improving his control. In each of his three big league seasons, he's thrown his fastball with decreasing frequency. In each of his three big league seasons, he's improved his first-pitch strike percentage.
So why is Lannan's career anomalous? Last season, 36 pitchers threw at least 200 innings. None struck out fewer than Lannan (89). Nobody had a higher success rate for inducing double plays. Only one pitcher, Tampa Bay's Matt Garza, had poorer run support. According to fangraphs.com, only two of those pitchers -- Doug Davis and Mark Buehrle -- had less average velocity on their fastballs.
"I've always been a contact pitcher," Lannan said. "My dad infused in me that lighting up the radar gun was never a priority."
This season, Lannan wants to finish for the first time with a winning record. With an improved defense and bullpen, he has a chance. Eventually, Washington views him as a No. 3 pitcher -- not a No. 1 or a No. 2. But if Stephen Strasburg develops, Lannan can eventually inherit a comfortable role, a role that even several years ago seemed improbable.
"He's a unique guy," said Gibson, who also is a scout for the Seattle Mariners. "When I'm out in the scouting world nowadays, I tell kids, 'Here's a guy who was 82-83 in high school, and now in the big leagues and, on his good days, he's 88-90 mph. But what separates him is something between the ears. To put it bluntly, I think he has an incredible fear of failing, and he has turned that into a huge positive with how he's worked."