VIERA, Fla. - When Davey Johnson officially slotted John Lannan into his starting rotation earlier today, he probably had outings like this afternoon's on his mind.
When Lannan is good, when he's spotting his fastball and getting good movement on his offspeed stuff down in the zone, he's pretty darned good.
And Lannan was pretty darned good today, as he went five strong innings this afternoon against the Astros, allowing two runs on just two hits with a walk and five strikeouts. The lefty retired 12 of the first 13 hitters he faced today and completed his five outings having thrown just 71 pitches.
"I thought he was awfully good today," Johnson said. "He kept the ball down, he really was cruising. We made a couple errors behind him and got his pitch count up, but I thought he was outstanding. When he does that, gets a lot of ground balls, that's Lannan."
Pitching coach Steve McCatty had a conversation with the Nats' hurlers recently, telling them he was tired of seeing their pitch counts so high early in games. His remedy to that problem was to have his guys focus on throwing more strikes and not worry so much about working on the black or trying to get too cute.
Today, Lannan came out determined to follow that message, and he had quick, efficient innings early on, getting through his first four frames in just 51 pitches. A wild pitch which allowed Mets third baseman Chris Johnson to reach on a strikeout and an infield single made the fifth inning a bit longer for Lannan, but overall, he attacked hitters, something he was proud of.
"I think a lot of guys have started pounding the zone a bit more," Lannan said. "That's what (McCatty) wants. He doesn't care about home runs, he does not like walks whatsoever. He likes us to be around the zone and attack guys. You try to get ready for the season, but it's still in spring training. It's going to be a completely different ballgame once the lights go on, but we just try to get into that mentality of just pounding the strike zone and throwing as (few) pitches as you can."
Talking after his start, Lannan didn't have much reaction to being named the Nationals' No. 5 starter to begin the season. ("It is what it is," he said.) The 27-year-old said he hasn't had much of a conversation with Johnson about his role or what the Nationals expect of him this season, but he says such a conversation isn't necessary.
"Davey's got a lot on his plate, and he doesn't have to worry about me," Lannan said. "There's other things that he might have to worry about, but I want him to know he doesn't need to come over here and tap me on the back and say, 'Hey, it's going to be OK.' I just don't need that from him. I think it's just better to kind of be left alone, I guess."
The last few months have been interesting for Lannan, although he might choose a different adjective to describe his winter and early spring. That period of time has been filled with trade rumors, talks of a demotion to Triple-A or even a possible move to the bullpen.
But Lannan continues to take the mentality that he's just going to go throw every fifth day and let the business side take care of itself.
"I haven't heard anything internally," Lannan said. "It's basically just rumors. I know what I am. I've had success and that's what I can focus on is what's made me successful. I really haven't focused on any of the stuff that's been outside. To me, it's just noise and it doesn't really affect me."