By Mark Viera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Not too long ago, some of them were the jewels of the Washington Nationals minor league system. Now the five of them sit in a row in the major league clubhouse: Craig Stammen, John Lannan, Ross Detwiler, Shairon Martis, Jordan Zimmermann.
The Nationals have relied on their young arms -- all except Lannan, in his second year, is considered a rookie -- perhaps sooner than expected. Even though the staff has only made a combined 90 career starts, signs of progress are evident. In June, the Washington starters' 3.11 ERA ranks second in baseball behind the Chicago Cubs starters' 2.11 ERA.
"It's a unique situation," Stammen said. "We're all just trying to take advantage of it."
Manager Manny Acta said: "They motivate each other and feed off each other, and it's good. They don't have any type of competition going on, but they're trying to outdo each other or follow up each other's stuff every five days."
The truth is, a competition is going on. Scott Olsen, scheduled to throw five innings or 80 pitches in a rehabilitation assignment last night with Class AAA Syracuse, will bump one of the young pitchers from the rotation upon his return from shoulder tendinitis that has kept him on the disabled list since May 18. Olsen will be evaluated after the start to determine when he can return to Washington.
"Obviously nobody wants to go down to Triple-A," Acta said, "but these guys are young and if we do have to make a decision -- these guys weren't even envisioned to be in the big leagues. We'll send them down to get experience. They'll be back here sooner or later."
In the Nationals' 3-0 win over the New York Yankees on Thursday, Willie Harris provided the night's highlight moment on a field waterlogged by heavy rains.
In the seventh inning, Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez lifted a sure extra-base hit to left field. Harris tracked backward to his left, then twisted around to his right when he noticed the ball tailing. He dived, made the catch and then skidded across the warning track like a seal performing at Sea World.
But Harris did not seem too impressed with his own performance. Asked yesterday where he would rank the grab in his career, Harris said: "Not even in the top five."