The past month has been tough for Craig Stammen. On July 7, he had his worst outing in a long time, giving up five runs and two home runs to the Orioles. The outing after that, he coughed up two more runs in long relief. Three scoreless outing were followed by another two rough outings in which he gave up five combined runs on 11 singles.
The appearances, too, had been irregular of late. Before Thursday, Stammen had pitched only three times in 14 days, a small workload that hurts his effectiveness. But in extra innings of Thursday’s game, the Nationals needed an arm from the depleting bullpen. Five relievers had been used. It was Stammen’s turn.
The right-handed long reliever, the seventh Nationals pitcher in the game, fired three crucial innings in extra innings to keep the Nationals in the game. He fired 47 pitches, notched four groundouts, pitched around two walks and struck out two. He carried the Nationals into the bottom of the 13th inning, when Bryce Harper hit a walk-off two-run shot.
“I felt more comfortable out there,” Stammen said. “I’ve been working on a few things that kinda clicked. Made some good pitches. Got some outs early and gave me a little bit of confidence and I could keep going.”
What stood out about Stammen’s outing was his sinker. In past games, he was missing by a tad. On Thursday, his location was sharper and the sinker moved more dramatically.
“It’s my bread and butter,” Stammen said. “When it’s working, I usually have decent success. For the past couple weeks, it might have been struggling. You just keep going after it and do the best that you can.”
After a two-out double by David Wright in the 13th inning and an intentional walk of Lucas Duda, Stammen got Eric Campbell to hit a 93 mph sinker back at him. Stammen got his glove on it to knock it down, grabbed the loose ball and fired to first for the inning-ending groundout.
“Very valuable to have a guy like him that can go that many pitches and run you through some innings and keep them where there at,” Manager Matt Williams. “That’s good. He’s better with regular work. That’s certainly not regular work. But when he pitches more, he’s got a better feel for the strike zone and his sinker sinks.”
The Nationals bullpen will be worn out on Friday in Atlanta (“It was important to win [Thursday's] game so we’ll have to deal with it going forward,” Williams said) but Stammen avoided more wear by getting back on track and shouldering a heavy load.
FROM THE POST
Walk-off homer in the 13th gives Bryce Harper a boost and the Nationals a 5-3 win, writes Adam Kilgore.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 4, Louisville 1: Mitch Lively fired six scoreless innings and struck out four. Rafael Martin has now thrown 41 1/3 innings without allowing an earned run. That’s absurd. Greg Dobbs drove in two with a pinch-hit single. Emmanuel Burriss is hitting .308 after two more hits.
Reading 3, Harrisburg 0: Paolo Espino allowed one run on three hits and struck out six over five innings. Caleb Ramsey and Quincy Latimore each had a hit.
Potomac 6, Winston-Salem 4: Ian Dickson gave up two runs on six hits over 5 2/3 innings. Kylin Turnbull allowed one unearned run over 2 1/3 innings. Gilberto Mendez earned his ninth save. John Wooten went 2 for 3 with a homer and three RBI.
Hagerstown 8, Kannapolis 1: Reynaldo Lopez allowed only one hit over six innings. David Napoli has a 0.36 ERA over 24 2/3 innings. Rafael Bautista went 3 for 5. Carlos Lopez went 3 for 3 with a walk. James Yezzo drove in three runs.
Auburn 11, Tri-City 4: Cody Gunter went 2 for 4 and drove in five runs. Garrett Gordon drove in two runs and scored three runs. Austen Williams allowed one run over five innings and struck out six.