Back in the ‘Burg

Back in the ‘Burg

Without an overwhelming fastball or dominant out pitch, soft-tossing control pitchers walk a tightrope between success and getting shelled each time they take the mound. Some have a successful career like Mark Buerhle or Jamie Moyer, while others like Shane Youman or Jon Adkins are out of baseball before they even turn 30 years old. John Lannan finds himself back in Harrisburg on the precipice of a career that could go either way.

Prior to this year, Lannan had 2+ full seasons in the majors under his belt that included 70 starts and 423 innings pitched. Sure, his record was only 20-30 but a 3.91 ERA while getting minimal run support behind him forged a belief in his talent from the Nationals’ organization. So much so, that he was rewarded as the Opening Day starter the last two seasons in Washington.

However, 2010 has been disappointing to say the least. During this season the former 11th round pick started 14 games while compiling a 2-5 record and a dreadful 5.76 ERA. His campaign has also seen his already small strikeout rate dip below 3 while his walks increased to over 4 per 9 innings. Most importantly, for the first time in his professional career Lannan’s groundball to flyball ratio on the season is below 1…which is death for a sinkerball pitcher. Simply put, he’s having trouble throwing strikes and when he does he’s struggling to locate and getting hit hard in the process.

The good news is that Lannan is only 25 and still has the assurance and support of the Nationals’ organization as General Manager Mike Rizzo recently stated, “He’s a major league pitcher. He’s going to be part of this rotation for a long time. The sooner he irons things out and gets comfortable, the better.” The decision to send him back here to Harrisburg instead of Triple-A Syracuse was also done with his best interests at heart. The move reunites him with pitching coach Randy Tomlin who helped Lannan during his stint at Potomac in the 2007 season. “It all started with Randy,” the southpaw said, “Either way, wherever I went, I knew I was going to have to work on some stuff.”

That “stuff” includes regaining his confidence along with his loose, consistent delivery that were keys to his meteoric rise through the Nationals’ organization. Rizzo thinks Lannan’s struggles were psychologically getting the better of him and he was pressing to perform. Lannan himself feels that his pitching motion has been forced and unnatural. What is Tomlin’s plan for Lannan’s path back to the Nationals’ rotation? “It’s more about letting him relax and rediscovering who he is.”

Lannan is not the first established major league pitcher to be demoted. This year we’ve also seen Detroit’s Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello head to Triple-A Toledo to work out both mental and mechanical issues. Most famously, Roy Halladay was also sent down early in his career and returned to the major leagues with better stuff and makeup that allowed him to become the pitcher he is today. The minor leagues present players with an opportunity to return to their previous form and Lannan appears to be approaching the change of scenery with a positive attitude, “I’m going to keep my head up. I need to work because, up there, I wasn’t helping the team out.”

In his two starts so far for Harrisburg, Lannan has been both Jekyll and Hyde. In his first outing against the Reading Phillies at Metro Bank Park, Lannan was sharp during his seven innings of work. He scattered four hits while striking out five and only walking one. He also induced 12 groundball outs while keeping the ball down and the Phils’ batters off-balance. Wednesday night in Portland was a different story, however. Lannan worked six innings allowing ten hits (including six doubles) and walked two and hit one batsman. The Sea Dogs had only five groundouts and were consistently elevating Lannan’s offerings in the form of line drives, fly balls, and pop-ups. Instead of looking at this latest start as a regression and cause for concern, think of it as merely a speed bump. Wins and losses during Lannan’s starts are a lot less important than regaining his confidence by implementing the things he’s worked on during his bullpen sessions.

Right now it’s probably tough for Lannan to see that he is in an advantageous situation: he has a supportive organization behind him, the Nationals appear to have pieces in place to become competitive, and Strasburg’s presence takes a lot of pressure off other starters in that rotation. For his sake, I hope Lannan can get it together and return to Washington to contribute over a long and successful career.

Banking on 300,000

As the midpoint of the 2010 season was just crossed, the year’s cumulative attendance also surpassed the 2008 season. That’s right…through 40 games, the Senators have already topped that awful season they had two short years ago.

With 31 games left to play as of July 1st, the Senators are 56.3% of the way towards the magic 300,000 number.

A Laurel and Hearty Handshake

Congratulations go out to the six Senators who were selected to this year’s Eastern League All-Star Game right here on City Island (tickets still available). Pitcher Tom Milone and shortstop Danny Espinosa were voted into the game by the fan balloting selection and Rafael Martin, Jhonatan Solano, Chris Marrero, and Michael Martinez were selected through voting by league media, managers, and officials. Additionally, manager Randy Knorr and his staff will lead the Western Division squad during the July 14th game.

Espinosa will earn some frequent flier miles that week as he was also selected to represent the United States in the Futures Game on the preceding Sunday in Anaheim as part of the MLB All-Star Game festivities.

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