Lannan feels himself trending upward

VIERA, Fla. - Normally in spring training, John Lannan comes out of the gates hot, then goes through a bit of a downturn before trying to get back on track for the start of the regular season.

This year's been the opposite. The Nationals lefty started out slow, but feels that with each start, he's getting closer to being in prime condition for the beginning of April.

"I'm progressing in a manner where I start off pretty slow and now I'm getting to a point where before opening day hopefully I've reached the point where I want to be," Lannan said. "It's a learning curve. Getting a little older, knowing what your arm can do. When I was younger, I could go out and just throw before the season started and be ready as soon as spring training started.

"Not saying I wasn't ready now, but I came into camp with a little different approach, knowing I had a couple months to get where I needed to be."

Lannan's fourth outing of spring was a solid one, as he went four scoreless innings today against the Braves, allowing three hits and a walk with two strikeouts.

What was different from the previous three outings, in which Lannan allowed seven earned runs and 14 hits over nine innings?

"I was getting ground balls this time," Lannan said. "There's still stuff I should work on, but it was a step in the right direction. ... Just getting back to what's given me success in the past. Getting ground balls, keeping the ball on the ground. Ran into some trouble there in the third, but after that I felt pretty good."

The trouble Lannan was referring to came when he allowed a one-out single to Braves center fielder Michael Bourn, then walked catcher Brian McCann, who smoked a few line drives just foul prior to taking ball four. After falling behind Dan Uggla 2-0, Lannan grooved a fastball, which Uggla drilled directly into a heavy wind blowing in from left center. The ball hung up and was corralled by left fielder Jason Michaels on the warning track.

"Just got to work with the elements," Lannan said. "I knew the wind was blowing in, so instead of getting behind 3-0, I gave him a cookie knowing he would have to get a really good piece of it to get it out. In a different situation, I'd throw a little differently. In the third, I got behind hitters, lost a little bit of command, but coming back in the fourth, I felt better."

Lannan was asked about how he's been dealing with this spring of uncertainty, complete with a battle for the fifth spot in the Nats' rotation, trade rumors and talks of possibly being optioned to Triple-A.

"(Stephen Strasburg) knows he's starting opening day, but I don't think anybody else knows what exactly day their starting or what my role is going to be," Lannan said. "But I'm not thinking too much about it. Just going from start to start, day to day, and everything's going to work out."

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