Todd Zolecki, phillies.com
ATLANTA — This is not how John Lannan pictured it.
The left-hander signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract with the Phillies in December with something to prove. The Nationals stuck him in Triple-A at the beginning of last season, and he joined the Phillies because he saw an opportunity to make 30 or more starts in the big leagues and show everybody that he remains an effective big league starter.
But his season has gone horribly awry.
Lannan left Wednesday’s 6-3 loss to the Braves at Turner Field in just the second inning because of an injured left knee — the same knee that cost him two months earlier this season. He wants to get this thing fixed, which means he might have thrown his final pitch for the Phillies this year — and, quite possibly, ever.
“It’s tough,” Lannan said. “I want to help this team out tremendously, go out there every five days. I know when I’m healthy I can go out there and do my job. I feel like I’m letting everybody down — letting myself down, my family down — but you have to look at the silver lining. Hopefully, I can get this thing fixed.”
Lannan missed two months earlier this season following a platelet-rich plasma injection that was administered to help heal a strained quadriceps tendon in the knee.
“I had the quad strain, but also some structural damage that’s happened over the years,” he said. “This time it wasn’t the quad tendon, but the other thing that flared up. It happened before the Nationals start [last Friday], and I thought it just flared up. I did the things I thought I needed to do to get it ready, and I just came to the point tonight where I was just trying to fight through it. But it obviously was affecting the way I was pitching.
“Every time I push off, there’s a pain there in the knee.”
Lannan, 3-6 with a 5.33 ERA in 14 starts, is eligible for salary arbitration following the season. Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Kyle Kendrick are expected back next season. Rookie Jonathan Pettibone, who is making a rehab start on Thursday with Double-A Reading, is 5-4 with a 4.04 ERA in 18 starts and could begin next season in the rotation. And if Roy Halladay comes back from surgery on his right shoulder and pitches effectively, he could be brought back as well.
Even if they don’t bring back Halladay, the Phillies could go in another direction, and that means they could non-tender Lannan, making him a free agent.
It seemed obvious from the first batter that Lannan was not right. He threw a 1-1 fastball to Jason Heyward, who hit the ball to left-center field for a home run to hand the Braves a quick one-run lead. Lannan allowed another run in the inning to make it 2-0.
It got worse in the second inning. Lannan walked Braves starter Brandon Beachy with one out and allowed a double to Heyward to put runners on second and third.
After walking Justin Upton to load the bases, Lannan signaled he had a problem. Pitching coach Rich Dubee and assistant athletic trainer Shawn Fcasni went to the mound. After a quick conversation, Dubee called right-hander Zach Miner in from the bullpen.
Miner allowed those three baserunners to score to make it 5-0.
The Phillies, who have lost 19 of their last 23 games, waited through a rain delay of one hour and 48 minutes for that.
The only positives for the Phillies the rest of the way came in the sixth and ninth innings. Domonic Brown hit a two-run homer to right field in the sixth to make it 5-2. It was the 27th homer of the season for Brown, who finished the night two homers behind Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt and Pittsburgh’s Pedro Alvarez, who lead the National League.
Brown could make things interesting with a run at the home run title over the final few weeks of the season.
Darin Ruf added a solo homer to left in the ninth to make it a three-run game.
“I see those,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “When you’re young, you work your [behind] off until you improve. You try to be the best player you can, and you never know what can happen for you.”
As for Lannan, he thought he worked hard during his rehab to finish the season strong. It appears it won’t be enough.
“I want to be a normal player,” Lannan said. “I don’t want to have to deal with this pain.”
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.