Inside John Lannan’s struggles

When the Nationals began the 2010 season, they assumed they had two proven commodities in the starting rotation: John Lannan and Jason Marquis. Neither was ace material, but they were more likely than not, on most nights, to keep them in the game.

We’re less than three months into the season, and Marquis is headed to Florida to rehab his arm after elbow surgery. Lannan missed a start with elbow discomfort, and has battled some mechanical issues. And though he came back after one break in April, he’s mostly struggled since. On Sunday, he gave up 11 hits in four innings against the White Sox, the third straight start he hasn’t made it through the fifth inning.

He’s got a 10.38 ERA and a 2.92 WHIP in his last three starts.

Lannan said again on Sunday his arm feels great, and no one with the Nationals seems to believe he’s hurt. His velocity was between 88 and 90 mph, where it normally is. But save for a few hitters at a time, Lannan hasn’t been able to get the feel for his pitches. He talked again on Sunday about not being able to drop his sinker or hit locations.

“I’m letting my team down. I’m letting myself down. I’m letting everybody down,” Lannan said. “The ground balls (I got), I was still missing my spots. Just because they were ground balls doesn’t mean I was hitting my spots. They were hits. It’s just not a run of bad luck. It’s just, I’m just not making my pitches. From the get-go, I threw a lot of strikes, but I wasn’t necessarily hitting my spots. So I’ve just got to go back and work harder.”

He said he was trying to make some mechanical changes during the game, and added he’d throw more pitches in his bullpen session this week to try and get a feel for his stuff.

Lannan’s sinker hasn’t had much bite all year, and catcher Wil Nieves said he’s struggled to stay on top of the ball, forcing it to cut instead of sink. But Lannan said on Sunday he was missing locations with his off-speed pitches, too. Still, Riggleman pointed to some spots early in the game where Lannan got the White Sox to ground the ball to Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond.

“That’s what we want. We want those right-handed hitters hitting the ball to the left side of the infield,” Riggleman said. “That’s an indication that John’s throwing the ball the way he should.”

But those stretches haven’t been long enough, or as frequent as they need to be.

“It’s just tough,” Lannan said. “I know I’m better than this. That’s the hardest thing to deal with - I’ve done it for two years now, and I’ve not tried to do too much. I’ve just been myself, and that’s always worked. Right now, I’m just trying to find myself. I’m trying to figure it out, and I’ve just got to work harder in the week and let it work during the game. I can’t go out there and try to find stuff during the game. I’ve got to be able to come out of the bullpen before the game and be ready to go from the get-go. I can’t go out there and start changing stuff, which I tried to do today. It’s not working. So I’m just going to work hard in my bullpens, and talk to the guys on my team. I’m getting good advice from a bunch of guys, and just keep on going.”