Washington Nationals Fall Again to the Red Sox, 6-4

By Mark Viera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 25, 2009

Craig Stammen sat alone at his locker late last night. He chewed his fingernails. He pulled his cap low over his head and rubbed his chin. He looked deep in thought.

Stammen is the least experienced of the Washington Nationals' young pitchers. In his seventh career start, he faced a Boston lineup with proven commodities: David Ortiz, Jason Varitek, Kevin Youkilis. He ran into a team that came to Washington looking to reinforce its position atop the American League East. And he did it before a hometown crowd that was pulling for the team in the visitor's uniforms.

All that added up to trouble on this night. The Red Sox ransacked Stammen in two big innings and then stamped out Washington's comeback bid for a 6-4 win before a record crowd of 41,530 at Nationals Park.

"I had good stuff, but I made a couple of mistakes with it," Stammen said. "It's very frustrating. They capitalized on the mistakes. I'm not really worried what team I'm facing; I've got to throw my pitches with what I've got today."

In winning its fourth straight game, Boston (44-27) received production from several of the usual suspects. Ortiz went 2 for 3 with a three-run home run off Stammen in the fourth inning. Varitek went 1 for 4 and blasted a two-run homer off Stammen in the sixth.

Stammen (1-3) pounded the zone for strikes early and mixed an effective blend of off-speed pitches. He pitched 1-2-3 innings in the first, second and third. But that pace did not last the second time through Boston's lineup. Stammen allowed six runs on seven hits with five strikeouts and a walk in 5 1/3 innings. It was a step back from his previous outing, when he earned his first major league win on Thursday in a 3-0 win over the New York Yankees.

Meantime, Scott Olsen, making a rehabilitation start last night with Class AAA Syracuse, allowed two runs and eight hits with five strikeouts over six innings. He threw 75 pitches, 58 for strikes. When Olsen returns from shoulder tendinitis, he is expected to nudge out one of Washington's young starters. It could be Stammen.

Asked about the reshuffling of the rotation, Manager Manny Acta said, "We have five days, and we'll make a decision."

Down 6-1 when Stammen was removed, the Nationals (20-49) worked hard to narrow the deficit with two runs in the sixth and another in the seventh. The Nationals also threatened in the eighth inning, but it was just a tease. With men on first and second, Ronnie Belliard struck out to end the inning after a taxing eight-pitch at-bat against Boston reliever Hideki Okajima. Washington stranded seven runners last night.

"The back end of that bullpen in Boston is pretty good," Josh Willingham said. "And we got to some of the guys."

Ortiz's blast made the difference. With two men on in the fourth inning, Ortiz slashed a home run for career RBI 1,000, 1,001 and 1,002. It gave Boston a 3-1 lead.

With his brutish manner at the plate, Ortiz has provided consistent pop in the Red Sox lineup for the last six years. He has struggled since last season, when he missed 45 games with a torn tendon sheath in his left wrist, and his production has not perked this year. But Ortiz had no problem when Stammen made a mistake last night.

Against Ortiz in the fourth inning, the right-handed Stammen smartly opted to stay away from the inside of the plate. He started with two balls, both high and outside. Ortiz fouled off both of the next pitches, also high and outside, and the fifth pitch missed wide. On the sixth pitch, Stammen threw a change-up high and outside but Ortiz drove it deep to center field.

"The whole game was based on that 3-2 pitch to David," Acta said. "I think next time he'll know he has to go to his best pitch in that situation."

Stammen said: "That was a pretty big mental mistake on my part. I've got to be able to shake that pitch off and throw what I want to throw."

In the sixth inning, Varitek blasted a two-run home run that soared over the wall in right field. Ortiz was on base after poking an infield grounder toward third base, which was vacated by Ryan Zimmerman to compensate for Ortiz's tendency to pull pitches with his left-handed swing. It was Varitek's 11th home run of the season and it came on the first pitch.

In the end, experienced trumped youth last night, with Stammen bearing the brunt.

"It's a learning process," Acta said. "I'm still very encouraged by the kid's outing tonight."

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