By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 17, 2010; D05
DETROIT -- Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
John Lannan climbed the mound on opening day for the Washington Nationals, an appointment he earned by establishing himself as their most reliable starting pitcher for two seasons. The Nationals could hand him the ball and know. Now they hand him the ball and wonder.
The elbow soreness that forced Lannan to miss a start earlier this year has not returned, he said. The rotten results and inconsistency it wrought has. On Tuesday night, in a 7-4 loss to the Detroit Tigers, Lannan endured one of the worst starts of his career, allowing seven runs, six earned, in 4 1/3 innings before 24,821 at Comerica Park.
Following his previous ragged start, Lannan allowed 10 hits and four walks. Any momentum from Stephen Strasburg's victory Sunday in Cleveland evaporated, replaced on Tuesday night by concern for Lannan. Simply, he is not this bad unless something is off, and Lannan cannot figure out what it is.
"Of course it's frustrating," Lannan said. "It's probably the worst I've done since I've been up here. I've just got to keep on battling. I'm not going to stop. I'm not going to just roll over. It's just a part of my career where I'm getting knocked down and things aren't going my way. I've got to battle through it."
Lannan allowed at least six earned runs for just the seventh time in his career and at least 10 hits for the fifth. Before Tuesday night, he had never allowed 10 hits in consecutive games. For a month after he missed a start with stiffness in the flexor tendon of his left elbow, Lannan did not allow more than two earned runs in four straight outings.
"He's been a very steady pitcher here for a couple years," Manager Jim Riggleman said. "I know he's searching. [Pitching coach Steve McCatty] is searching. All we can do is put him out there and hope the style of pitcher that he is starts showing up again."
Lannan knows the current culprit. His sinking fastball, the pitch that allows him a career in the major leagues even though he throws in the low-90s and high-80s, is not working. On Tuesday night, catcher Iván Rodríguez called for the usual bundle of sinkers Lannan relies on.
"Basically, they didn't do anything," Rodríguez said. "They were coming in like a four-seamer. He needs to get that sinker back. When he gets that sinker back, he's going to be all right."
"I'm not getting that true sink that I usually get," Lannan said.
Nor is he operating with his usual control. The Tigers, trailing 1-0 after Ryan Zimmerman drove in Nyjer Morgan with a first-inning sacrifice fly, loaded the bases on three singles with one out in the second inning. Lannan induced a grounder, and Ian Desmond saved Lannan a run by forcing out Carlos Guillén at home.
Up came Ryan Raburn, who entered batting .165. Lannan walked him to force in a run.
The Tigers pecked away at Lannan until the fifth inning, when Raburn delivered a decisive blow. With no outs, after a Gerald Laird single and an error by second baseman Cristian Guzmán, Rodríguez called for a sinker inside. Lannan threw one that didn't sink, and it stayed over the plate. Raburn crushed his first home run of the year, a three-run blast to left that broke a tie and put the Tigers ahead, 7-4.
Before Lannan's final misstep, the Nationals had not trailed. They scored two in the third on consecutive RBI singles by Josh Willingham and Rodríguez. Michael Morse led off the fourth and crunched his second home run this season, an opposite-field laser on an 0-2 fastball from Max Scherzer, who struck out nine Nationals in six innings. Morse's home run continued an 8-for-15, two-homer tear in June. Riggleman said Morse would earn another rare start Wednesday, with Willingham getting a scheduled day off.
Rayburn's home run had made Morse's homer moot for Tuesday night's purposes. Lannan lasted one more batter before Riggleman pulled him.
"He's a very good major league pitcher," Riggleman said. "It's been rough for him this year. He's being tested."
Said Lannan: "It's still early in the year. I'm not giving up yet."