"I believe in John." -- Manager Jim Riggleman

Over the last two-plus seasons, John Lannan has defied baseball's conventional wisdom, being successful at the Major League level without possessing an "out" pitch -- the ability to miss bats.  He had the lowest strikeout per nine inning rate of all qualifiers for last season's ERA title.

This season, whether the reason is physical, mental, or worse, Lannan is mired in his worst stretch as a big league pitcher.

His troubles continued today, as he gave up five earned runs on 11 hits in four-plus innings, and the Washington Nationals lost their sixth consecutive game, 6-3, to the Chicago White Sox, before a Father's Day crowd of 31,763.

The three-game series drew over 108,000 visitors to Nationals Park.  Unfortunately, the patrons were treated to just four runs in those three games from the Nats' offense.

The loss is Washington's sixth straight, and drops the season record to 31-39.

The Nationals really need to figure out what's wrong with Lannan, a pitcher that the organization was depending on this season to give them around 200 innings this season -- and to keep them in ball games.

The exact opposite is happening.  Today's debacle makes the third straight start Lannan has not made it out of the fifth inning.  He continues to put runners on base at an alarming rate, and four straight hits in the top of the fifth -- all four hitters eventually scored -- did him in today.

Lannan has not had trouble throwing strikes during his slump. He didn't walk a batter today. But his location is killing him. He can't consistently throw his sinking fastball effectively. Lannan generated a bunch of ground balls today -- but also several line drives.

Manager Jim Riggleman made some definitive comments after the game about his starting pitcher.

"He is really having a hard time getting the ball down," Riggleman said, asked about Lannan's pitch location.

It's a fate that pitch-to-contact pitchers must live with.  It's a very line that pitchers that don't strike out hitters have to walk.  Their job is to generate ground balls, but once it's in play, you have to hope it's hit at someone. 

All too lately, those balls that were hit at fielders the last two seasons have been going through for hits this year.

Riggleman understands this much.  "If he gets ground balls and they go through for hits, you have to live with that.  He's just not getting them out."

Asked if the elbow discomfort that forced Lannan to miss a start earlier was affecting his performance, Riggleman replied, "I don't think he's hurt.  You can ask him, but I don't have any concern that he's hurt."

Riggleman was then asked if the team would contemplate replacing Lannan if his ineffectiveness continued.  "That's something we gotta think about.  John has been a mainstay here...he's been a horse for this ballclub.  But when you continue to come out in the fourth or fifth, it's just not going to work."

The skipper then said that Lannan's start next weekend against Baltimore was not in jeopardy.

As for the offense, the Nats had eight hits on the day and managed three runs off Freddie Garcia (W, 8-3) in the fourth inning, but little else.  Cristian Guzman led off the frame with a triple to the left center gap and scored on an Adam Dunn grounder to first, making a terrific slide around catcher Ramon Castro. 

Dunn then went to third on a hit-and-run with Josh Willingham and came in on a Roger Bernadina (2-for-4) single.  Willingham scored on an opposite field base hit by Wil Nieves a batter later.  The modest outburst gave the Nats a 3-1 lead at the time, but also closed the scoring for the day.

Ryan Zimmerman went 0-for-4 with two more strikeouts.  He's reached base just eight times in his last 44 plate appearances.

THE GOOD:  Cristian Guzman, Josh Willingham and Roger Bernadina all had two hits apiece.

THE BAD:  The Nats walked once on the day.  And that was John Lannan.

THE UGLY:  Willie Harris struck out on three pitches in the ninth inning with a man on base and one out.  I'm not going to cherry-pick stats here, but Harris is hitting .154/.244/.327 for the season and has not reached base in his last 18 plate appearances.

Asked if he considered Michael Morse (eight for his last 17 at bats), Riggleman said, "If we were looking for a three-run home run I might have put Morse up there. 

We were looking for base runners there...Even with Willie struggling he still gives you a good at bat, maybe he can get on base for us there.  That's kinda Willie's niche there on the ballclub  We're just gonna keep running with him."

NEXT GAME:  Monday, the Nats host the Kansas City Royals (29-41).  Livan Hernandez (5-4, 2.94) takes on Bruce Chen (yes, that Bruce Chen) (3-1, 4.15) at 7:05 pm from Nationals Park.