John Lannan welcomes his chance with Phillies

Ex-National John Lannan said it took months to recover from being sent to the minors last year.
Ex-National John Lannan said it took months to recover from being sent to the minors last year. (YONG KIM / Staff)
Posted: February 28, 2013

CLEARWATER, Fla. - The day after the Washington Nationals made him the highest-paid player ever to be shipped to the minors before opening day, John Lannan drove six hours north. He was nailed with a speeding ticket between Washington and Syracuse, N.Y. He checked into an extended-stay hotel, opened his laptop, and wrote 311 words.

Lannan requested a trade.

"At the time," he said, "I thought it was a good decision. Looking back on it, you just have to live with it."

Lannan craves a fresh start, one that commences Wednesday with his spring Phillies debut. He was the second-longest tenured National when the only franchise he ever knew paid him $5 million to go away. He e-mailed those 311 words to local reporters last April, a decision he now calls "very premature." He toiled at triple-A Syracuse, surfaced for six major-league starts, then watched when his friends finally tasted the postseason.

It took months, Lannan said, but he achieved clarity. His faith was rewarded in the form of a $2.5 million contract from the Phillies, who intend to make the 28-year-old lefthander their fifth starter.

"I'll always have a different perspective, for sure," Lannan said. "Coming here, I knew I would be given a shot. But I know I have to pitch. That's all I have to worry about. I'm not looking at it as a guarantee, because nothing is guaranteed in this game."

He should know.

"At first, how would you feel?" Lannan said. "How would anybody feel?"

The initial emotion was anger, manifested in the form of an e-mail. "I believe that I belong in a big-league rotation," Lannan wrote. "I am a proven major-league starting pitcher, with a track record of success."

Next was disbelief. No trade was coming. Twice, Lannan had started an opening day for Washington. To start 2012, he pitched the fourth game at Syracuse with 2,823 people watching. He allowed five runs and failed to pitch past the second inning. In 24 triple-A starts, he had a 4.30 ERA.

The decision stung for months. Nationals manager Davey Johnson informed Lannan of the team's decision during the third inning of their final exhibition game. Until then, Lannan had believed he was the fifth starter because Johnson had promised it nine days earlier.

Lannan had 72 hours to report to Syracuse. He arrived a day early.

"I had to come to terms with reality," he said. "It wasn't like the end of the world. It was in Syracuse. I was still making that money, and I made the best of the situation."

It was tougher when Washington flourished. Lannan had pitched for Nationals teams that lost 102, 103, and 93 games. He was a stable force that averaged 30 starts and pitched to a 4.00 ERA for four seasons.

The Phillies tormented him. His career ERA dips to 3.80 when removing all of his outings against them. And Lannan actually improved with time; he allowed three or fewer runs against the Phillies in his final six starts.

Two of those came in the final week of the 2012 season when Lannan was reinserted into Washington's rotation as Stephen Strasburg's replacement. Lannan started Game 160 as his final act. He was excluded from the postseason roster.

"I was happy for the guys," Lannan said. "It was all I could focus on. I came up with all of these guys. Some of them are my really good friends. I had to look at it that way. They deserved to win."

In his e-mail, Lannan wrote, "I've done a lot for this organization through some tough times." He was a spectator during their best times. Now, unexpectedly, he stands on the other side.

"I'm done making plans, really," Lannan said. "I'll make plans when I'm retired. For now, I'll just go with it."

Contact Matt Gelb at or follow on Twitter @magelb.

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