When Craig Stammen jogged in from the bullpen yesterday in the eighth inning, he figured his outing would be brief. The Nationals trailed, 9-7, after Ryan Mattheus had allowed back-to-back home runs. He pitched around Rickie Weeks so he could bring reliever John Axford to the plate. Stammen struck him out with ease. “It looked like I was going to face just that one out,” Stammen said.
It was not the end of Stammen’s day, only the very beginning. While Michael Morse stood out as the star, Stammen’s performance provided a pitching counterweight to Morse’s offensive heroics. He retired the final seven batters he faced across the eighth, ninth and 10th, striking out four as he extended the game so the Nationals could win it in the 11th.
Stammen would not have pitched past the eighth if not for Morse’s two-run home run in the ninth. The blast kept the game alive, and it also gave Stammen a chance to both redeem himself and reprise his early-season dominance. Friday night, Stammen allowed a walk and a two-run homer, the fourth time in eight outings he had let in runs. As he pitched yesterday, he solved what had ailed him.
“I’ve been feeling a little bit off for quite a while now,” Stammen said. “I kind of said, ‘Screw it. Let it eat.’ And it worked out. I guess that’s kind of the things you go through during the season. I’m glad I got to go out and try to figure something out. It feels good.”
Stammen’s rough patch was marked with uncharacteristic wildness. He walked eight batters in 15 2/3 innings over those eight appearances. Stammen has been a horse this season, throwing 58 innings out of the bullpen, but he had been disappointed by his recent performance.
“I had been walking guys, and I don’t like walking guys,” Stammen said. “So I’m trying to place it in there instead of just letting ‘em see what they can do with it. In my head, I’ve been searching for it for such a long time. I felt like I kind of found it a little bit. [The adrenaline] probably did help me find it.”
Stammen fumed after his performance Friday, when the home run he allowed also scored one of the runners he had inherited from starter Ross Detwiler. A starter for most of career, Stammen is still learning how to bounce back quickly from bad outings, but that aspect of relieving suits him.
“When you have a bad one like that, you just got to kind of put it aside and get back on that saddle,” Stammen said. “This team does it really well. That’s one thing, if you’re going to be good, that’s what you have to do. Have a short memory. It’s how you respond to adversity.
“I like it a lot better. It fits my personality a lot better. As soon as I give up a run, I want to get back out there. I want to pitch more innings. Being in the bullpen is a good thing for me in that regard.”
That is a lesson Mattheus will have to put into practice. He had a miserable afternoon, allowing three homers and four runs over 1 2/3 innings. “We probably shouldn’t have played as many innings as we did tonight,” Mattheus said. “That guy shouldn’t have went down that slide as many times as he did.”
Manager Davey Johnson said Mattheus can at times be “his own worst enemy” when he gets amped up and the ball rises. His velocity seemed to be down, with his fastball zipping in the low-90s rather than the mid-90s, like usual. Mattheus diagnosed his problem as a lack of fastball command – he fell behind in counts, then laid in hittable pitches.
“Bad pitches to good hitters,” Mattheus said. “That’s what good hitters do to bad pitches. They hit them over the fence. It was a rough one.”
FROM THE POST
Michael Morse ripped two clutch hits as the Nationals came back twice to score a wild, 11-10 victory over the Brewers in 11 innings.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Lehigh Valley 6, Syracuse 3: John Lannan allowed six runs in 3 1/3 innings on 13 hits and two walks, striking out two. Carlos Rivero went 1 for 3 with a home run. Jim Negrych went 2 for 3.
Syracuse 6, Lehigh Valley 1: On rehab, Jayson Werth went 2 for 2 with two walks and played all seven innings in right field. Chad Tracy went 1 for 1 with a pinch-hit homer. Carlos Rivero went 3 for 4 with a double and a home run. Tanner Roark allowed one run in seven innings on five hits and no walks, striking out four.
Trenton 3, Harrisburg 2: Ryan Perry allowed no runs in six innings and two walks, striking out four. Since he converted to a starter, Perry has a 1.82 ERA in 39 2/3 innings with 30 strikeouts and 14 walks.
Potomac 8, Frederick 3: Jason Martinson went 3 for 4 with a home run. His 96 RBIs between Hagerstown and Potomac rank second in all the minors. Steve Souza went 2 for 4 and played center field for the first time. Rick Hague went 1 for 4 with a homer. Robbie Ray allowed three runs in 6 1/3 innings on six hits and one walk, striking out six.
Hagerstown 6, Lexington 0: Adrian Nieto went 2 for 5 with a home run. Blake Schwartz allowed no runs in six innings on three hits and two walks, striking out six.
Tri-City 9, Auburn 4: Anthony Rendon went 1 for 3 and came out after three plate appearances. Estarlin Martinez went 2 for 4 with a walk.