Friday, July 27, 2007

A Memorable Debut, But One to Forget -- John Lannan made his major league debut today, for the Nationals, in Philadelphia. It would he an exaggeration to say this was much anticipated. Prior to this year, few Nationals fans would have even heard of Lannan. He was a low round draft choice, who struggled some with his control in his first full year in the minors last year. He figured it out this year, though. Beginning the year in Class A ball, Lannan was so masterful that he climbed first to AA, then AAA, and finally to the big club, in just over three months.

Of course, Lannan was up primarily as fill-in, because of recent injuries to Jason Simontacci and Jason Bergmann. Still, he had the chance to show he was ready for the majors. In truth, he didn't pitch badly. He was more effective than Tim Lincecum was in his debut with the Giants, a couple of months ago -- and now Lincecum is pitching as well as anyone in the National League. Lannan doesn't really have Lincecum's stuff, but he has the potential to do well, if he hits his spots.

Today, Lannan did struggle some, giving up a walk, a couple of hits and a run, before he'd even recorded his first out. What an out it was, though!! The Nationals had spotted Lannan with a two-run lead in the top of the first, and the rookie was trying to hold on to what was left of the lead, with the score now 2-1. Lannan struck out Ryan Howard on three straight curveballs. The last one really dropped right out of the strike zone, leaving Howard flailing off balance. Lannan closed out the inning, by getting Aaron Rowand to hit into a double play, on a first-pitch fastball.

In the third inning, Lannan lost the lead. With two outs, he walked Chase Utley, and then he tried to throw the curve past Howard, again. This time, the ball stayed up a little, at the knees, and Howard drove it deep to straight-away center, for a two-run homer.

As rough as the third inning was, it was not nearly as wild as the events of the fifth inning, when Utley and Howard came to bat again. First, Lannan hit Utley on the hand. Though Utley raced to first base, we learned after the game that he had broken a bone in his hand. The next pitch hit Howard in the back, and the umpire, Wendelstadt, immediately ejected Lannan from the game. Manager Manny Acta soon followed his starting pitcher to the showers. Reliever Chris Schroeder allowed a single to drive in both Utley and Howard, with both runs charged to Lannan.

The news wasn't all bad for the Nationals. Actually, it was all bad for the Phils. The Nationals rallied to win the game, the game-winning shot coming on a two-out three run home run by Jesus Flores, in the eighth inning. Chad Cordero came on, and fought through a tough inning, allowing one run, but nailing down the save. Despite a start that John Lannan would probably like to forget, the Nationals won a really memorable game. With the loss, and the injury to Utley, the day was much worse for the Phillies.

If nothing else. Lannan learned he has the stuff to strike out Ryan Howard. Hopefully, the injury to Utley, and the ejection won't mess too much with his psyche. With his first major league start behind him, Lannan can go about his learning, and earning a place in the rotation, especially for next year.

The next big milestones for the Nats will take place back in A ball. Shawn Hill will have a rehab start for Potomac, on Monday. The next week, first-round draft-pick Ross Detwiler will move up to Potomac, and make a few starts there. If things go well for him, he will make a fairly quick jump to AA, and be fast-tracked to get a shot pitching in RFK, before the season is over. It's even possible that Hill, Lanan And Detwiler will be the cornerstones of the Nats' rotation next year -- of course, it's very premature to predict anything like that.

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