Johnson may add lefty to rotation at any time

There are still 27 games left in the regular season, but the Nationals have some flexibility if they want to prepare their starting rotation for the playoffs.

A big part of that is the presence of left-handed starter John Lannan, who spent much of the season buried at Triple-A Syracuse when he didn't make the rotation despite pitching well in spring training. Lannan will take over for Stephen Strasburg, who will make his final start of the year on Sept. 12 against the New York Mets.

The Nationals have off Sept. 13 and 17, so manager Davey Johnson can insert Lannan into the rotation any time after Strasburg makes his final start. On Tuesday, Johnson made it sound like that will be during a critical three-game series against the Atlanta Braves that begins Sept. 14.

"With all the days off in there, it doesn't necessarily have to follow that [Lannan is] going to pitch on Strasburg's day," Johnson said. "I'll do whatever I want to do."

Johnson has met with Lannan twice in recent days and given him "a rough idea" of how he will be used between now and the Atlanta series. Lannan made two spot starts for Washington during the season, but there were some struggles at Syracuse. He finished with a flourish there, however, throwing back-to-back complete-game shutouts. The last outing was Aug. 30.

Johnson, knowing it's been a long season for Lannan, is essentially skipping a start for the 27-year-old, who would have been set to pitch Tuesday. Lannan will probably be available out of the bullpen starting Sept. 9 -- his next scheduled start day. That would have him ready for the Braves later in the week.

"I think it [lets Lannan] catch his breath and give him time to adjust and then his kind of tuneup will probably be out of the [bullpen]," Johnson said. "He doesn't have an aversion to pitching out of the pen. He just didn't want to pitch out of the pen at the start of the season."