Thom Loverro: Nationals' Lannan may be down, but he's not yet out

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When John Lannan arrived in Washington in 2007, he looked around and saw a starting rotation that included Matt Chico, Mike Bascik, Jason Bergmann, Shawn Hill, Tim Redding and Jason Simontacchi.

None of those players is on a major league roster today.

There was an opportunity for a young pitcher, even an 11th-round pick out of Siena College.

Five years later, Lannan found himself surrounded by blue chippers like Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and Ross Detwiler and free agent veterans like Chien Ming-Wang and Edwin Jackson.

So like his 2007 brethren, the 27-year-old Lannan found himself out of a job, demoted Tuesday to Triple-A Syracuse despite 128 major league starts and a record of relative success for a franchise full of failure in recent years.

"We felt that's what's best right now for the organization," manager Davey Johnson said.

Nationals fans may see this as a sign of positive change for their team, proof that the talent has risen to a competitive level. And that would not be wrong. The Nationals have gone from a team full of spare parts to a team potentially with championship talent.

But I wouldn't count out the kid from Long Beach, N.Y., just yet, even though he asked the Nationals for a trade Wednesday. The John Lannans of the world have something of value -- an underdog determination that often is part of the makeup of any young team making the transition from pretender to contender.

Lannan already has defied the odds. Starting pitchers from Siena who are picked in the 11th round don't often wind up making even an appearance in the major leagues.

He pitched his way through the minor league system quickly, and on a team devoid of farm system talent, his numbers were impressive. So Lannan arrived at the end of July 2007 and made six starts, looking as good as anyone Washington was putting on the mound that year.

He compiled a record of 38-51 with a 4.00 ERA -- with a franchise that had a record of 297-408 during Lannan's time here. In 2008 and 2009, the Nationals lost 205 games, yet Lannan posted ERAs of 3.91 and 3.88 over 31 and 33 starts in those two seasons.

Lannan was outmatched nearly every time he stepped on the mound, yet he almost always gave his team a chance to win.

We are mesmerized by the talent of Strasburg, who opens the season Thursday for the Nationals at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs. We wait in anticipation of what Bryce Harper will bring to Washington sometime this season.

But before the glitter -- when there was only garbage -- Lannan polished it up as well as anyone who was here. It took something special to do that.

Don't count him out.

Examiner columnist Thom Loverro is the co-host of "The Sports Fix" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN980 and Contact him at

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Thom Loverro

Sports columnist
The Washington Examiner