Nationals squander lead in 6-3 loss to White Sox

Cristian Guzmán scores one of the Nationals' three runs in the fourth inning. An inning later Chicago answered with four of its own.
Cristian Guzmán scores one of the Nationals' three runs in the fourth inning. An inning later Chicago answered with four of its own. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/associated Press)
By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 21, 2010

Before the bleak and recently familiar end, John Lannan and their offense each provided the Washington Nationals a spasm of hope. On Sunday afternoon, Lannan pitched four sufficient innings and received three runs of support. The Nationals had taken the lead, which, let alone victory, has been rare as their season has started to slip away.

Armed with an advantage, the Nationals squandered it before recording an out. Faced with a deficit, the Nationals clung to it until they finalized their 6-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox before 31,763 at Nationals Park. The defeat sealed a consecutive series sweep, a sixth straight loss and eighth game under .500 overall, again forging a new season-worst record.

"It's just not happening right now for us," Manager Jim Riggleman said. "We're struggling. Everybody in there knows it. We're sticking together, though. We're going to pass the character test. Your character gets tested sometimes, and we're getting tested right now."

No player's character has come under harsher assault than Lannan's. The Nationals took their first lead in 40 innings by scoring three runs on four hits in the fourth inning. Before retiring another hitter, Lannan had lost the lead and left the game. He started the fifth by allowing four hits, three singles and one double that the White Sox turned into four runs.

For the third straight start, Lannan exited in the fifth. He allowed five runs on 11 hits before Riggleman trudged from the dugout and asked for the ball. In his last three starts, Lannan has a 10.38 ERA while allowing 38 base runners in 13 innings. His ERA for the season rose to 5.76, second highest in the National League behind Houston's Wandy Rodriguez.

In the clubhouse after the game, Lannan sat on a chair in front of his locker, stared at the floor and squeezed his hair with both fists.

"I'm letting my team down," Lannan said. "I'm letting myself down. I'm letting everybody down. I'm having a tough go at it right now, but I'm going to keep on battling. I'm not going to give up.

"It's just tough. I know I'm better than this. That's the hardest thing to deal with. I've done it for a few years now. I'm not trying to do too much. I've just been myself, and that's always worked. Right now, it's kind of hard to find myself."

Lannan proved for two seasons he could pitch effectively, and even thrive, at this level. But he has forced the Nationals to answer a question about his immediate future. If he is healthy -- and he says he his arm feels "awesome" -- will he figure it out with the Nationals or in the minor leagues?

The answer for now is the Nationals. Lannan will make his next start as scheduled, in Baltimore next weekend against the Orioles.

"I believe in John," Riggleman said. "John's been too good for us to let a few starts detour us too much, you know? We've got a lot of leash there with John."

Between starts, Lannan will throw more pitches during his bullpen session to find a feel for his sinking fastball. Lannan became the Nationals' most reliable pitcher, their opening day starter in consecutive seasons, because he induced bushels of harmless grounders. He spotted his sinker, and his aggression in the strike zone and his secondary pitches flowed from there. This year his sinker is off, and so, then, is everything else.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company