NEW YORK -- The 2012 baseball season has featured one unexpected turn after another for John Lannan, so it's perhaps appropriate the left-hander's return to the Nationals rotation will come at a time and place nobody expected.
Though he was promoted from Class AAA Syracuse on Sept. 1, Lannan wasn't supposed to make his first start for the Nationals until this weekend in Atlanta. But then the club decided to shut down Stephen Strasburg five days earlier than planned, so now Lannan finds himself preparing to start tomorrow night's series finale against the Mets.
He hasn't appeared in a game since his Aug. 30 start for Syracuse, but he's tried to keep himself on something of a regular routine entering this outing.
"We're just gonna act like I skipped a start," he said. "I didn't pitch, but I followed my routine. I had a pretty good one going, so I just kept on doing that. Got my lifts in, did my running, did everything necessary. I threw three bullpens. I just acted as if I skipped a couple starts, and now I'm pretty much on the routine as if I was pitching Wednesday. So it worked out."
Lannan has gotten used to adapting to unexpected challenges. After assuming he'd be in the Nationals' Opening Day rotation, he learned on April 3 he was instead being shipped to the minors despite his 5 million salary and big-league track record. After initially requesting a trade, he set about trying to work his way back to D.C., ultimately earning two summer starts during doubleheaders.
Lannan won both of those games and was given assurances he would return in September to take Strasburg's rotation spot. He tried not to anticipate when exactly that would take place, and that approach probably paid off because he's now starting several days earlier than expected.
Lannan's last two starts at Syracuse -- back-to-back shutouts -- were by far his best of the season, but he's being careful not to assume that success will immediately carry-over into a big-league pennant race.
"It just doesn't translate," he said. "It is what it is down there, but it's a whole different mindset right now. I just tried to stay as fresh as I could in the bullpens. I knew I couldn't create what I'm going to feel on Wednesday. But looking forward to something, the last bullpen I threw, the mentality changed."
A Long Island native, Lannan will have family on hand for tomorrow's game. It's his first start at Citi Field since April 10, 2010, when he beat the Mets, 4-3, and it comes five months after he thought he'd pitch here in the fifth game of this season.
"I was supposed to make my first start here, when I was supposedly in the rotation," he noted. "So it's kind of crazy that I'm making this start now."
It's easy to think of Lannan stepping in as a fresh arm to take over for a tiring Strasburg, but the 27-year-old has thrown 161 23 innings over 26 starts combined starts between Syracuse and Washington this season. He insists he remains physically strong for the stretch run.
"I feel great," he said. "Obviously I ended the season strong at Syracuse, and I felt good those last two starts. I threw 122 pitches in my last start. Obviously it's different; I'm not throwing in front of 200 people here, so the adrenaline is probably more up here than it is down there. It's just something that happens.
"It feels great, because I haven't been in a lot of pressure situations down there. But I'm ready."