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With chance to clinch, Nats again turn to Lannan

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With chance to clinch, Nats again turn to Lannan

"John's my guy. I like John. And John can pitch. He led our club last year in wins." -- Davey Johnson on John Lannan, March 26

When Davey Johnson made that pronouncement during the final week of spring training, announcing John Lannan would open the season as the Nationals' No. 5 starter, little did he or anyone else know how the next six months would unfold.

One week later, of course, Johnson informed Lannan he would be opening the season in Syracuse, not Washington, a surprise demotion that prompted the left-hander to request a trade.

Six months later, Lannan remains a National. After spending the majority of the season at Class AAA, he has been back in the big leagues since Sept. 1, reinserted into the rotation after Stephen Strasburg was shut down.

And now, he'll be asked to pitch the Nationals to the NL East title.

Unable to clinch the division over the weekend in St. Louis, the Nationals return home for their final series of the regular season, needing to beat the Phillies just once to set off a champagne celebration on South Capitol Street. And wouldn't you know the man Johnson will hand the ball to tonight is none other than John Lannan.

The 28-year-old lefty has already started (and won) some of the most important games of the Nationals' season. Summoned from Syracuse to pitch the second half of a July 21 doubleheader against a Braves team that had trimmed its deficit in the NL East to 1 12 games, he tossed seven strong innings to earn the victory and start a six-game Nationals winning streak.

Lannan returned two weeks later for another doubleheader, this time against the Marlins, and again notched a quality start en route to another win.

He has since made three more starts over the last three weeks, taking over Strasburg's rotation spot and tossing 5 23 scoreless innings against the Mets before then getting roughed up by the Dodgers in a no-decision.

The July win over the Braves was one of the Nationals' most important of the season, but last week's win in Philadelphia might have been the most important of Lannan's season. Tortured by the Phillies throughout his career, he marched into Citizens Bank Park and allowed two runs over 5 23 innings to improve to 4-0 and exorcise one of his biggest demons.

That game, more than any other, leaves the Nationals feeling good about their chances tonight with Lannan back on the mound against the Phillies.

"We have all the confidence in the world," said fellow lefty Ross Detwiler, who suffered yesterday's loss to the Cardinals. "What is he, 4-0? There you go. He threw against them last week and did really well. He got us a huge win after I lost the game, and he came back and did what he needed to do to get the win."

Lannan, who declined to be interviewed following yesterday's game, still faces an uncertain future. He's unlikely to be included on the Nationals' postseason roster, barring a late turn of events. And he might not be tendered a contract over the winter, left to sign with another club after spending all of his eight professional seasons in the Nationals organization.

None of that, though, matters to him right now. He's often talked about his ability to get through this difficult season by focusing solely on the task immediately before him, not worrying about what would be next and never assuming anything would be handed to him.

Well, tonight, Lannan will be handed the ball for the most important game of his life and potentially the most significant game in Nationals history.

Few could have foreseen things playing out like this. But there is a certain poetic symmetry to it all. With a chance to clinch their first-ever division title, the Nationals will turn not to Strasburg or Gio Gonzalez or Jordan Zimmerman or Edwin Jackson or Ross Detwiler. They'll turn to a familiar face who, as it turns out, has perhaps had the confidence of his manager all along.

As Johnson said way back on March 26: "John's my guy."

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Nats prospect update: Three minor-leaguers sent to Kansas City for Kelvin Herrera

Nats prospect update: Three minor-leaguers sent to Kansas City for Kelvin Herrera

The biggest story in Nationals prospects this week is the three Washington lost to the Royals in return for closer Kelvin Herrera. Here’s a look at what the Nationals gave up to add more depth to the bullpen.

Kelvin Gutierrez, AA 3B

The infielder, formerly on the Nationals’ 40-man roster, has posted a .285/.344/.388 line through his six-season minor league tenure. One of his greatest strengths is his speed, with 55 career stolen bases and 14 extra-base hits this season. His other notable tool is his powerful arm strength, which may help explain his transition from shortstop to the hot corner.

Blake Perkins, High A OF

The Nationals chose outfielder Blake Perkins in the second round of the 2015 draft. He has quite a bit of room to improve at the plate, batting .234/.344/.290 this season in Hagerstown. However, what he lacks offensively, he makes up for in the outfield. According to Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser, Perkins has “plus speed, mature instincts, excellent routes and an above-average arm.”

Yohanse Morel, RHP

The biggest wild card of the group, Morel is a 17-year-old outfielder-turned-pitcher from the Dominican Republic. His fastball reaches 95 mph and he certainly has huge potential for growth. He has not yet pitched in the U.S. since making his professional debut in the Dominican Summer League in early June.

So, what did the Nationals gain?

Right-handed closer Kelvin Herrera is a two-time All-Star who is currently in the midst of a stellar season. In his Nats debut, he needed just six pitches to shut down the Orioles in the eight. The team is reportedly (and understandably) thrilled to have Herrera joining the roster. Adam Eaton said, "I'm so happy he's here and he's on my team and I don't have to face him anytime in the near future."

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Orioles weather long rain delay in 3-0 win over Nationals

Orioles weather long rain delay in 3-0 win over Nationals

WASHINGTON -- The rain was heavy and relentless. As the puddles grew deeper on the tarp at Nationals Park, the Baltimore Orioles were left to wonder if their bid for a rare road victory would be thwarted by, of all things, the weather.

During a season in which very little has worked in their favor, the Orioles withstood a long rain delay to beat the Washington Nationals 3-0 Wednesday night.

Baltimore led 2-0 after four innings when play was stopped. After a wait of 2 hours, 43 minutes, the game resumed with a few hundred fans from the announced crowd of 32,153 sprinkled around the lower seating bowl.

Mark Trumbo homered for Baltimore, and Andrew Cashner and four relievers combined on a five-hitter in a game that ended long after midnight.

"It was nice," Trumbo said. "I'm glad that we actually kept the game going. Had we not been able to, it might have been a wash. But it ended up being pretty big for us."

Baltimore ended a six-game losing streak to Washington that began last May, won for only the fourth time in 20 games and improved the majors' worst road record to 10-28.

This one was worth the wait.

"It's never easy, especially when you get over the hour mark, two-hour mark," Trumbo said. "Then you have to restart. It's almost two games in one, so, great job by our guys tonight."

The Nationals managed only two hits following the delay, both in the ninth inning.

"It happens. You can't do anything about the rain," manager Dave Martinez said. "You've got to come out and get yourself ready to play. I'm not going to make any excuses."

The rain delay cut short a solid pitching performance by Cashner, who allowed three hits and no walks over four innings in his return from an 11-day stay on the disabled list with back spasms.

Miguel Castro (2-2) followed with two hitless innings, Darren O'Day pitched a perfect seventh and Zach Britton got four outs.

Brad Brach allowed the Nationals to load the bases with two outs in the ninth before striking out Mark Reynolds .

Trumbo hit a two-run homer in the second inning off Gio Gonzalez (6-4), and for a while it appeared the drive would be washed out by the rain.

"One pitch. That was the whole game," Gonzalez lamented. "That was it."

Indeed, it all ended well for the Orioles, who added a run in the sixth when Adam Jones doubled off Shawn Kelley and scored on a sacrifice fly by Danny Valencia .

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