MIAMI - John Lannan, by many metrics, had the finest season in 2011 of a career that's been built on unlikely performances. After spending six weeks in the minors in 2010, he rebounded to win 10 games for the first time, finished with a career-low 3.70 ERA and pitched 184 2/3 innings, the second-most of his career.
Yet while he was pitching with a 2-1 lead in the sixth inning against the Marlins on Tuesday night, working his final inning of the season, Lannan "missed my spot by five feet" and threw a fastball that buzzed off the top of Wilson Ramos' glove. The Marlins scored the game-tying run on the passed ball, and eventually went on to win 3-2 on Bryan Petersen's walk-off homer off Doug Slaten in the ninth.
"I kept the team in the ballgame, but you look at that, I could have easily just kept the lead," Lannan said. "You go out there, and they're busting their butts to get you a lead, and you blow it like that, it's not a good feeling. Going into next year, that's something I really want to work on. (If) guys get the lead for you, hold it."
Lannan's numbers while pitching with a lead were about the same as when the Nationals were behind with him on the mound; hitters had a .753 OPS against him before tonight when the Nationals were trailing, and it was .755 when they were winning. But he has struggled in a handful of situations where the Nationals might have won if he'd been able to bear down; he walked in the game-tying run against the Giants in late April, and gave up a homer against San Francisco in May that helped start a Giants comeback. He allowed a go-ahead single in the sixth inning against the Angels in June, and his wild pitch tonight put the Marlins back in the game.
As analytical a pitcher as Lannan is, those moments are likely to stick with him for a while. He was certainly stewing about the passed ball on Tuesday night.
"I'll take a couple days and kind of look back (on the season)," Lannan said. "But right now, this is fresh in my mind."
Lannan heads into a pivotal offseason; he is due for a sizable raise in his second year of arbitration, and though there's a chance the Nationals could move him this winter, he'd be in position to join Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann in what should be a solid rotation.
And as much as there was to like about Lannan's 2011 season - like the increased effectiveness he got from his off-speed pitches by spotting his fastball more consistently - he'll need to keep getting better if the Nationals want him to be a catalyst as they try to push toward competitiveness in 2012.
"It's just the way you approach it," pitching coach Steve McCatty said. "When you say, 'I'm not going to do that (give up a lead),' it sounds easy, but it's just saying, 'Hey, I'm not going to let it happen. I'm not going to think about it.' Because once you start thinking about it, you get behind, and you get the ball up over the plate. It's more of a mental focus, saying, 'I'm going to get us deeper in the game. I have a lead. I'm going to get through this inning.'"