PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. – John Lannan pitched five shutout innings for the Phillies against the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday and drew praise from manager Charlie Manuel.
The 28-year-old lefty is slated to be the Phillies’ fifth starter this season. That was a given when the Phillies guaranteed him $2.5 million to sign him as a free agent this winter.
But Lannan is taking nothing for granted.
He came to camp with the mindset that he had to compete for a job, and 2 1/2 weeks before the season opener is still thinking that way.
“Spring’s not over,” he said after allowing just two singles and a walk while striking out four in the Phils’ 3-1 loss to the Rays. “A lot of things can happen.”
Lannan learned that last spring.
He was Washington’s opening day starter in 2009 and 2010 and won 10 games with a career-best 3.70 ERA in 2011.
But last spring he became an outsider as the Nationals added more menacing arms to their rotation. He was sent to Triple A and spent the majority of the season there while the team he’d been in on the ground floor with blossomed and won a major league-best 98 games.
So that’s why he’s not counting his rotation spot until his cleats sink into the mound at Citizens Bank Park.
Washington manager “Davey Johnson came out last spring and said I was his guy and I obviously wasn’t,” Lannan said. “So until I’m pitching on whatever day, I take nothing for granted. They’ve given me a shot here so I’m going to keep throwing.”
The Phils-Nationals rivalry is a good one and Lannan will make it that much better because he is clearly driven to have a strong season and dethrone his former mates from the top spot in the NL East.
“I always had a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “To be told you’re not good enough was kind of hard to take so it’s made me work a little harder and, yeah, it’s definitely changed me.”
Lannan is not a hard throwing pitcher. He relies on change of speed, location and needs to get ground-ball outs, as he did eight times Friday.
After signing with the Phillies, Lannan, who makes his home in the Tampa area, threw several offseason bullpen sessions under the watchful eye of Phils pitching coach Rich Dubee. After a few sessions, Dubee noticed that Lannan’s changeup was a little firm. The two have worked on softening it up to give it more of a deceptive differential from his fastball, which is usually about 88-89 mph. Lannan tinkered with his circle changeup grip a little and likes the results.
In the first inning Friday, Dubee noticed Lannan’s changeup was firm again. Lannan made an in-game adjustment and found the right feel on the pitch. He threw 70 pitches and will climb a little higher in his next start.
The Phillies have a major question mark in the starting rotation as Roy Halladay’s stuff has shown to be in decline this spring. Is it a temporary decline or the start of something more drastic? Time will tell. Halladay will pitch Sunday afternoon against Baltimore. Other than Halladay, the Phils’ rotation is in good shape, strong at the top with Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee and solid at the bottom with Kyle Kendrick and Lannan.
“If Roy gets it together, we’ll have the expectation to win a lot of games,” Manuel said. “And if Kendrick and Lannan get us through the sixth inning, we could have a real good staff. They are very capable of keeping us in games.”