Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Quality starts aren't good enough for John Lannan, who insists he can do better.
But Lannan wasn't taking solace in anything.
"I'm keeping the team in the game. But I should be pitching better than that," he said. "I should be getting the team a win. There's no excuses for just keeping the team in the ballgame. That's mediocre work. That's not acceptable to me. And I don't think it's acceptable to anybody else."
Give the Nats' Opening Day starter credit for understanding what he really needs to accomplish and not being satisfied with reaching the bare minimum stats for success. Lannan may have the guile to battle his way through some ragged outings and still make them useful, but his perfectionist nature demands a higher standard.
Lannan was most upset at himself for an ugly second inning at Wrigley Field in which he walked the Cubs' seventh, eighth and ninth hitters in succession, including opposing pitcher Carlos Silva on four pitches with the bases loaded.
"I'm sick of having those mediocre innings where things get away from me," he said. "I've never walked three in a row and walked the pitcher with the bases loaded. That's disappointing."
Said manager Jim Riggleman: "For a little while there, he just wasn't John Lannan."
Actually, John Lannan circa 2010 bears some resemblance to the guy who pitched the second inning last night. He's already walked 15 batters in 27 2/3 innings, a staggeringly high rate of 4.9 batters per nine innings that is nearly two full batters higher than his 2009 rate of 3.0.
Lannan also is giving up more hits, a league-leading 36 of them to be precise. That leaves his WHIP at a robust 1.843, a huge leap from last year's rate of 1.347.
So what's going on here? Is this just a blip on the radar screen for Lannan, or a sign of actual decline over the long haul. Critics like to point out that the young lefty should have seen this coming, because he's always been hittable (his strikeout rate is among the lowest in the sport). All those balls put into play in the past somehow turned into outs; now they're turning into hits.
But it might be premature to start up that kind of talk. Lannan's struggles so far this season appear to stem more from an inability to locate his pitches with the kind of precision he's become accustomed to since reaching the majors in 2007. That's where the walks are really killing him. And it also explains the increased number of hits off him. Even the strikes he's throwing are not quality strikes.
For Lannan to be successful at this level, he's got to be able to hit a dime with his fastball. Pound the low, outside corner of the strike zone every time. Over the last three years, he's shown an ability to do that with a pretty high level of consistency.
And knowing his perfectionist nature, don't be surprised if he figures out how to rediscover that lost form sooner rather than later.