Nationals report

Lannan's hot at the right time

Now that we know Stephen Strasburg won't pitch past his scheduled Sept. 12 start at the New York Mets -- if he even gets that far -- it's time to look ahead at his replacement, who will make three and maybe four critical starts down the stretch. No question that will be John Lannan, buried in the minor leagues all season because Washington's rotation was too good. That despite a career 3.99 ERA, two Opening Day starts during the team's down years and four full respectable seasons in the majors.

But all the drama of an early-season trade request, made after Lannan thought he had made the final roster only to be cut at the last minute, is in the past now. The Nats need him. And Lannan has caught fire in Triple-A at the perfect time after a mediocre season in Syracuse. Lannan has pitched 201Ú3 scoreless innings over his last three starts and is coming off back-to-back complete-game shutouts. In those two recent outings, he has allowed 11 hits with one walk and 12 strikeouts. Lannan made his final start for Syracuse on Thursday, however -- the Chiefs' season ends on Tuesday -- so he'll have to cool his heels for a while before rejoining Washington. He has won both of his starts in the majors this season.

MLB STORYLINES

1 Dodger blues » Maybe the Dodgers' blockbuster trade to acquire star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez was too late? Los Angeles, 1? out of the second and final wild-card berth in the National League entering Saturday, is losing more players than it's picking up. Starting pitcher Chad Billingsley (3.55 ERA) is on the disabled list with right elbow inflammation and underwent an injection of platelet-rich plasma. He hopes the procedure will speed the healing process, but his 2012 season could be over. Meanwhile, closer Kenley Jansen (25 saves, 2.54 ERA) had a recurrence of his irregular heartbeat this week and is out indefinitely.

2 Seeing red » Los Angeles isn't the only team with injury issues. The St. Louis Cardinals may have lost shortstop Rafael Furcal because of a pair of seemingly innocuous throws during the sixth inning of Thursday's game in Washington. One to home plate on a force play and another to second base on a fielder's choice grounder led to a popping sound in Furcal's right elbow. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Furcal would return home from its road trip for further tests. Furcal, 34, has a .671 OPS but remains a steady presence in the field and would be missed as the Cardinals try desperately to hold their playoff spot.

3

Rough road »

The A's pummeled Cleveland in a four-game sweep this week before starting one of the toughest September schedules. Starting on Monday, Oakland must hold its AL wild-card lead with two series against the Angels, hot on their heels in the playoff chase, with one in between one at Seattle -- 28-18 in the second half. After that comes a set vs. Baltimore, which entered Saturday tied with Oakland. And only then comes a 10-game road trip to AL East leader New York, AL West leader Texas (four games) and Detroit, also in the wild-card chase.

Who's hot?

1. Felix Hernandez » The Mariners ace had three complete-game shutouts and a 1.08 ERA in August.

2. Jimmy Rollins » The Phillies shortstop had nine hits -- four for extra bases -- and six RBIs in his last eight games.

3. Derek Jeter »

The Yankees shortstop continued his good season with 43 hits in August and a .941 OPS.

Who's not?

1. Curtis Granderson » The Yankees' slumping center fielder injured his hamstring on Saturday.

2. Tommy Hanson » The Braves righty hasn't made it out of the fifth inning in his two most recent starts.

3. Jon Lester » Red Sox righty pitched eight innings Thursday, but five runs pushed his ERA back to 5.01.

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com