After only five innings Monday night, Manager Davey Johnson chose to pull starter Ross Detwiler. The Nationals had twice lost a lead with Detwiler on the mound. His pitch count had climbed close to 90. Plus, “I had The Vulture out there,” Johnson said. “Pretty easy decision.”
The Vulture is what Johnson has taken to calling Craig Stammen. It would usually be a stretch to call the long man a team’s most valuable reliever, but for the Nationals it is wholly appropriate. Stammen extended his incredible, out-of-nowhere season Monday night, throwing two scoreless innings without allowing a hit or a walk and striking out three. He is a big reason why, with the Braves losing, the Nationals jumped back into first place.
Stammen is 3-0 with a 1.29 ERA and a team-high 21 relief innings. He has struck out 23 and walked four. Hitters have missed 29 percent of the time they’ve swung against him. For good measure, he has stranded all five runners he’s inherited.
“It’s unbelievable,” Detwiler said. “He’s been throwing after me a lot this year. I’m in here doing my shoulder work, and I get to see it on TV. You see some of the movement he has, the nasty slider he has, it’s unbelievable. It’s great to see. It’s a guy I came up with through the minor leagues. He’s definitely at the top of his game right now.”
Monday night, Stammen induced seven swing-and-misses in 22 pitches. He has always had swing-and-miss stuff, but working out of the bullpen has enhanced the bite on all of his pitches.
“He’s a lot better,” Detwiler said. “The numbers show that. Guys just don’t look comfortable up there against him. He’s throwing the ball well. He’s a nasty sinker, and then he’s got a slider that goes the other way. They’re either diving out or diving over the plate.”
About 48 hours before opening day, Stammen appeared headed to the minors to start the season. But he made the roster when the Nationals sent John Lannan to Class AAA Syracuse, and Stammen’s presence has been a blessing. The Nationals are 10-4 in games he pitches.
“I’m just trying not to think about it, just keep it rolling,” Stammen said. “The more you think about it, the worse it gets. I’m just kind of going out there, enjoying it, trying to live in the moment. So, far it’s working out.”
FROM THE POST
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 6, Rochester 4: Corey Brown went 2 for 4 with a home run and a double. Jim Xavier Paul went 3 for 4 with a double. Negrych went 2 for 4.
Harrisburg was off.
Potomac was postponed.
Hagerstown 4, Hickory 3: Adrian Nieto went 2 for 4. Wirkin Estevez allowed two earned runs in five innings on four hits and a walk, striking out two.