Lannan unravels in sixth as Nats fall
Left-hander allows five runs on 11 hits in five-plus innings
HOUSTON -- The Nationals blew a three-run lead and lost to the Astros, 9-4, at Minute Maid Park on Thursday night.
Earlier in the day, Washington ended up winning its suspended game from May 5 against Houston, 11-10, in the bottom of the 11th inning on an error by Astros shortstop Miguel Tejada.
In the regularly scheduled game, Nationals left-hander John Lannan had one of his worst starts of the season. He lasted five-plus innings and gave up five runs on 11 hits. He was staked to a 4-2 lead until things started to unravel in the sixth inning.
After Ivan Rodriguez led off with a double, Geoff Blum singled off the glove of shortstop Cristian Guzman to put runners on first and third. Jeff Keppinger followed and tripled to right-center field to drive in Rodriguez and Blum and tie the score at 4.
Nationals manager Manny Acta felt Lannan hurt himself by not throwing enough pitches on the inside part of the plate.
"He was throwing the ball fairly well," Acta said. "But when you are playing in this place, a lot of guys just don't pitch inside enough. They are intimidated by that short porch. I think he pitched way too much on one side of the plate. It kind of caught up with him a little bit. The Astros knew where he was going. They hit him good. They have a good-hitting ballclub."
Lannan acknowledged that he threw too many balls on the outside part of the plate. He said throwing on the one side of the plate is the reason he has been successful this season. It's just that the Astros made adjustments on him.
"I have faced some teams where they don't make any adjustments. They try to pull that outside pitch," Lannan said. "The Astros are a good-hitting team and they made the adjustments. I had to throw inside more and I didn't. I felt great. I threw a lot of first-pitch strikes, but I didn't mix it up as well as I should have."
Lannan was then taken out of the game in favor of right-hander Jason Bergmann, who struck out Jason Michaels. But things got out of hand after that. Michael Bourn hit a fly ball to deep left field. Adam Dunn tried to fool Bourn into thinking that he had a shot at catching the ball, but it hit the wall and then bounced past Dunn to give Bourn an easy triple, which sent Keppinger home.
Tejada followed and hit a fly ball to left field. It looked like the ball should have been caught, but it dropped in front of Dunn for a single, allowing Bourn to score.
Asked if Dunn gave him the effort on those two plays, Acta said, "Yeah. It is what it is. I don't know why you keep bringing that up. We didn't bring Dunn over here to play defense. He is what he is. We love the 40 home runs and the 100 and something RBIs. We didn't have that here [in the past]. I can't ask Dunn to play the outfield like Nyjer Morgan."
The Astros added to their lead against Mike MacDougal by scoring three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning on a Lance Berkman homer.
The Nationals' offense got off to a great start against Astros right-hander Russ Ortiz, who lasted three innings and gave up four runs. Josh Bard highlighted the scoring with a two-run single in the third inning.
After the game, Ortiz was upset with manager Cecil Cooper for taking him out of the game too soon. Ortiz believed Cooper doesn't give him enough room for error.
"It became apparent to me from the very beginning of the season that I wasn't going to be given much of a chance or room for error, and today is another example of that," Ortiz said. "My first start was an example of that and my fourth start was an example of that. The last two months I don't think I've really struggled pitching. I struggled today and I'm out after three innings and we come back and win.
"I don't understand it and I haven't been given a real good reason why I was taken [out]. They said I was walking and getting behind too many guys, but like I said in my last inning, four out of the five guys I made my pitches. They just did a good job of hitting them."
After Ortiz left the game, five Astros relievers -- Jeff Fulchino, Alberto Arias, Tim Byrdak, Chris Sampson and Jose Valverde -- were dominant, allowing three hits and striking out six batters. The bullpen was a far cry from the one Acta saw in the suspended game.
"They have some power arms and they throw at you," Acta said. "Some guys have gotten better, too. Arias is very tough. Teams haven't been able to score on him in a while. He has a power sinker and a very good breaking ball. The other guys have good arms. Once you get to Valverde, it's tough to come back on them."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.