Less than an hour after his most meaningful win in a Nationals uniform, John Lannan was optioned back to Triple-A Syracuse.
If he pitches like he did Saturday night - seven solid innings allowing just two runs in what felt like a must-win situation - he will be back very soon.
Lannan’s story was the major headline as opening day approached in early April, when he was first optioned to Syracuse and Ross Detwiler was given the fifth starter spot on the big club.
He admitted it hasn’t been easy being in Syracuse all season, and just like any other pitcher, he wanted a chance. After all, Lannan was the longest-tenured starter on the Nationals’ roster dating back to his debut in 2007. And being that pitcher on the staff with the most starting experience in a Nationals jersey, this game seemed to have a greater impact.
But with his team (he alternated early in his postgame interview when referring to the Nationals as “them” and then “we”) in desperate need of a victory to stem the tide after two difficult losses to the Braves, he delivered in true Lannan fashion.
“I have never been on a first-place team, so that was kind of cool,” Lannan smiled. “And I have never been in a game where it really meant something. Every game means something, but right now they are in a battle in the East, so I just wanted to go out there and do my job.”
Allowing two runs on three hits in the first frame, Lannan then settled in to pitch six scoreless innings and finish with five hits allowed in seven frames for his first win with the Nationals since September 2011, a 5-2 gem over the Atlanta Braves in Game 2 of a doubleheader.
“Early on, he was pretty pumped up, left the ball up a little bit, but he settled down,” manager Davey Johnson said. “He pitched a masterpiece for us as far as I was concerned. I hated to hook him, (but) he still had more left in the tank.”
And with all that time in Syracuse, Lannan has had time to reflect after being very disappointed at getting sent there at the start of the season.
“The whole situation, it is a business,” Lannan said. “As much as you love the game of baseball, there is other stuff that comes along with it. I was kind of upset when it first happened. But now as things are unfolding and things are going well for us, I am really excited to help this team out down the stretch.”
And that stretch could be crucial for the Nationals if general manager Mike Rizzo sticks to his 160 or 170 innings limit for Stephen Strasburg.
“The game goes on if I am here or not,” Lannan said. “These guys are going to bust their butts even though I am not here. I know they are thinking about me and I am thinking about them, and hopefully we can play together in September.”
Said shortstop Ian Desmond: “There is one thing about John - he is not scared. He did what an opening day starter does, usually. He did everything he could do today. He left it all out there. He got us the win. That is all he could do. He knows that, it is a business. He will be ready to go the next time they call him.”
Wouldn’t that be fitting for the pitcher that was essentially a major piece of the early years for the Nationals in D.C. to come back in the middle of September and help the Nationals clinch the division?
Saturday, Lannan showed that could be a distinct possibility.