By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Unwilling to tolerate one extreme -- the unmatched ineffectiveness of starting pitching Daniel Cabrera -- the Washington Nationals moved toward another, committing to a starting rotation of uninterrupted youth.
The Nationals yesterday banished Cabrera to the bullpen, where he will pitch in non-pressure long relief situations, and announced the plan to replace him in the rotation with 25-year-old Craig Stammen, who is scheduled to make his major league debut tonight. With Stammen in the fold, the Nationals' staff is composed of four rookies and one second-year pitcher.
Stammen, a 2005 12th-round draft pick, didn't figure into the team's long-term plans until this spring, when he developed a two-seam fastball that revived his career. With a cameo Grapefruit League start in March, Stammen, for perhaps the first time, forced himself onto the organization's radar. Seven starts this year with Class AAA Syracuse (4-2, 1.80 ERA) has affirmed his status as a prospect.
"He was a little bit of a late bloomer," acting general manager Mike Rizzo said. "We saw him last year, and he was a little bit of a different pitcher."
Like fellow rookie Ross Detwiler, recalled earlier this week from Class AA Harrisburg, Stammen has no assurance of a long-term spot in the rotation. But so long as Cabrera remains in the bullpen, either player has an open invitation to pitch his way toward permanence.
To make room for Stammen, the Nationals optioned reliever Garrett Mock to Class AAA Syracuse following last night's game.
In his six-year big league career, Cabrera has made just one relief appearance. His new role, though, does not reflect suitability. It reflects a last-ditch chance.
Signed this offseason to a one-year, $2.6 million deal, Cabrera came to Washington as an admitted project -- all velocity and wildness. The Nationals got even less than they bargained for. In eight starts, Cabrera showed plenty of wildness and little velocity. Washington lost every one of his games.
Cabrera, speaking yesterday, described his performance as "terrible," and added, "nothing good happens every time I go out there." Cabrera, 27, emphasized that he understood the reasons behind the move.
Manager Manny Acta said that Cabrera will be used only to start innings, allowing him more time to warm up, as he's accustomed to. Asked if Cabrera's bullpen role could become permanent, Acta said: "Hey, whatever works. If he come comes out of the bullpen lights-out and pitches good and he likes the role, why change it? So we'll see."