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Lannan, the plan -- and the future of the rotation

First, remember I have a 2 p.m. chat on Wednesday, live from Nationals Park. Among the possible topics: Chad Cordero's shoulder, John Lannan's guts, Nationals Park's crowds, Manny Acta's attitude, Lenny Harris's tactics, Felipe Lopez's role, Ryan Zimmerman's slump. Etc.

And, though this is surely off-topic, a tip of the cap to the Caps. A crushing loss, to be sure, but this team has a lot about which to be excited in the future. But there may be no more sudden way to end a season than a seventh-game, OT loss in hockey.

But let's talk about John Lannan and the rotation - both now, and in the future. Consider this quote from the gamer:

"Sure, we want to win every single night," Manager Manny Acta said. "But with the plan we have here, and what we're trying to accomplish here, an outing by this young man like that is worth three or four of those losses that I have suffered already."

That's the perspective Acta has, as part of The Plan. Lannan is showing that when he commands his fastball, he is very, very good.

"That's important for everybody," pitching coach Randy St. Claire said afterward. "Breaking pitches, they're mostly supposed to be thrown out of the strike zone. But you have to throw the fastball where you want it, and he can do that."

Lannan has now made 10 major league starts. In one, he faced Barry Bonds, sitting on 755 homers - and struck him out the final time he faced it, leaving Mike Bacsik for the honors the next night. Now, he has faced John Smoltz on the night Smoltz struck out his 3,000th hitter. Nothing seems to bother him.

Here are his stats from his first 10 major league starts:

7/26/07 at Philadelphia: 4-1/3 IP, 4 ER, 1 Chase Utley wrist
8/1/07 vs. Cincinnati: 5-2/3 IP, 2 ER
8/6/07 at San Francisco: 7 IP, 1 ER
8/11/07 at Arizona: 7 IP, 1 ER
8/18/07 vs. New York Mets: 5-2/3 IP, 5 ER
8/23/07 at Houston: 5 IP, 3 ER
4/6/08 at St. Louis: 6-2/3 IP, 2 ER
4/12/08 vs. Atlanta: 4 IP, 6 ER
4/17/08 at New York Mets: 6 IP, 1 ER
4/22/08 at Atlanta: 7 IP, 0 ER

Seven times in his 10 starts, Lannan has allowed three or fewer earned runs. That's called keeping your team in the ballgame.

It seems to me that this guy is part of the future. One scout I talked to before this start said, "I like Lannan. Good delivery, decent stuff, not scared." That's the thing almost everyone - including his teammates - says about Lannan. He doesn't care about the situation. "You just have to block it out," he said.

So let's quickly evaluate the rotation, and project a little bit. We like to play a good game of Guess the Rotation every once in a while around here. Think about how many of you (and me) had John Patterson in the Opening Day rotation two months ago. What a distant memory that seems like.

But consider Acta's quote above in evaluating the situation. The rotation at Columbus includes Collin Balester, Garrett Mock, Tyler Clippard, Jason Bergmann and - the guy who's pitching better than any of them - Mike O'Connor. I suggested to Jim Bowden the other day that Jordan Zimmermann, off to a fabulous start for Class A Potomac (2-0, 0.61 ERA, 18 K in 14-2/3 IP), could be this year's John Lannan. Zimmermann has pitched well every time Bowden has seen him, making Bowden, in his own estimation, "the wrong guy to ask." But the club is keeping an eye on him.

Redding: 3-1, 3.27 ERA, .207 opponents' average
Chico: 0-4, 6.04 ERA, .312 opponents' average
Hill: Only one start, and I don't believe that 7.20 ERA is reflective of how he pitched
Perez: 0-3, 3.38 ERA, .282 opponents' average

Given all that, who makes up your five-man rotation after the all-star break? (Man, that's a long way off. As one Nationals' staff member said to me today, "How long ago does Opening Night seem?" When I said, "About three months," he said, "Exactly.")

Other stuff: The notebook had the news that Felipe Lopez is now entrenched at second. One of the quietly surprising things about this early-season swoon is the poor play of Ronnie Belliard. Hitting .214 and not playing solid defense. I was convinced that Belliard was a really solid piece for this year coming out of spring. Funny game.

And, finally, Sheinin traveled to Chicago to get a couple of stories, the first of which is a bit of a preview of what Nationals fans -- oh, shoot, just baseball fans -- can see tonight at Nationals Park. Johan Santana against the Nationals, and Brian Schneider has a front-row seat.

See you for the chat, and for the entire 11-game homestand -- the longest of the year.

By Barry Svrluga  |  April 23, 2008; 12:33 AM ET
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