The Nationals have optioned John Lannan to Class AAA Syracuse, which makes Ross Detwiler Washington’s No. 5 starter entering this season.
The decision comes one year after Lannan, twice the Nationals’ opening day starter, won 10 games with a 3.70 ERA. Lannan, making $5 million this season, is the highest-paid player in baseball history to be optioned to the minor leagues before the end of spring training. The left-hander is also the first healthy pitcher to post a sub-4.00 ERA and get optioned to the minors before the end of the following spring.
Lannan learned about the move during the third inning of Tuesday’s 8-7 loss to Boston. Manager Davey Johnson broke the news to Lannan in the dugout at Nationals Park.
“Actually I was going to have [the conversation] before the game, and then I said, ‘No, no,’ ” Johnson said. “I kind of put it off, put it off, and I was going to have it right before the game, and I said, ‘I’ll do it during the game.’
“Very difficult decision. A tough one. I respect and like John Lannan a lot. It was a tough day and not the way I like to end up spring training.”
Johnson did not disclose Lannan’s reaction, and Lannan was not in the clubhouse following the game to address the unexpected move that means Detwiler, also a left-hander, will be in the starting rotation until injured right-hander Chien-Ming Wang is back later this month.
But teammates clearly felt for Lannan, 27, who has been with the Nationals since 2007 and has been a steady presence in the clubhouse.
“It’s unfortunate that John has to suffer from that, but that’s the nature of the game,” said reliever Craig Stammen, who was among the final players to make Washington’s opening day roster. “Unfortunately baseball isn’t always as fun as it was when we were kids, and there’s a business part of it at this level. That’s the tough part about today.”
Leadoff hitter Ian Desmond has spent many innings backing Lannan at shortstop, and after he was thrown out at home to end today’s game, he too expressed support on one of the more difficult days of spring training.
“Obviously I’m rooting for Johnny,” said Desmond, who homered and walked twice against the Red Sox. “But it’s a business, and I know that John’s going to persevere and end up okay in this situation regardless.
“It takes a lot more than 25 guys to win a championship, and at some point during the season we’re going to need him, and I know he’s going to be ready.
“He’s going to go down [to the minors] and keep on working, and this isn’t going to faze him one bit.”
The move to send down Lannan, though, does speak to the depth of the Nationals staff and to the confidence the front office has in Detwiler, whose last spring training start included five innings, three hits and one run with five strikeouts. Detwiler pitched one inning Tuesday, striking out one and allowing no hits or runs.
Detwiler, 26, also is a first-round pick who has more raw stuff, including a fastball in the mid-90s, than Lannan. But Lannan, having thrown more than 180 innings in three of the past four years, has more of a track record.
With Detwiler out of the bullpen, the Nationals are able to give opening day spots to both Stammen and Ryan Mattheus. Chad Durbin had been in the running, but the Braves announced Tuesday afternoon that they signed him to a major league deal, which means he opted out of his minor league contract with the Nationals.
The Nationals also placed Wang, closer Drew Storen and outfielders Rick Ankiel and Michael Morse on the 15-day disabled list. They put reliever Cole Kimball and first baseman Chris Marrero on the 60-day DL.
Storen threw a bullpen session before Tuesday’s game.
As for his schedule beyond that, “I have no idea,” he said. “I actually have no idea.”
Storen assumed he would not travel to Chicago with the Nationals as he builds arm strength following his bout with right elbow inflammation. That leaves two options: He will either return to Viera to rehab, or he will go to an affiliate — perhaps Class A Potomac — to pitch in rehab games.
“I feel like I’m getting there,” Storen said. “Every day is a step in the right direction.”