Olsen's Return Leads to Stammen Offering Some Relief

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 28, 2009

BALTIMORE, June 27 -- With Scott Olsen (shoulder tendinitis) about to come off the disabled list, the Washington Nationals figured to either demote Craig Stammen or fellow rookie Ross Detwiler to the minors. Stammen imagined the either/or: Depending on what Washington wanted, he'd be starting in the big leagues or the minors.

Instead, the Nationals have settled on an alternative. The team will send Stammen to the bullpen. The Nationals will add Olsen to the rotation on Monday. Before then, they must make another roster move -- presumably removing one member of their existing bullpen.

Stammen occasionally pitched in relief during college at the University of Dayton. He also appeared out of the bullpen in six games last year with Class A Potomac. But ever since, he has pitched -- and ascended through the organization -- as a starter. With Washington, Stammen has a 1-3 record and a 5.49 ERA in seven starts.

"I mean, I'm glad to still be here, I guess," Stammen said. "Obviously, I think I'm a starter but Scott has been in this for a while, so he deserves his spot back. But I'm excited. I've been in the bullpen before, in college. It'll be fun."

Bard Simplifies His Swing

About one and a half months ago, Nationals hitting coach Rick Eckstein approached Josh Bard and suggested that the catcher change his swing. Bard's swing, Eckstein said, had too many moving parts, too many variables that could betray him.

Bard had always known his swing relied on lots of movement. But he had used it successfully. In 2006, he hit .333 with nine homers in Boston and San Diego. "For a couple [of] years since," Bard said, "I felt almost like I was chasing that swing."

After speaking with Eckstein, Bard stopped chasing his old swing and dedicated himself to learning something new -- a swing that relied on less hand movement and a shorter stroke. It took about two weeks for Bard to feel comfortable with the mechanics, and even then, he wasn't sure the basic movements could generate power. Then, on June 2, Bard homered against San Francisco's Tim Lincecum, the reigning National League Cy Young winner.

After that, Bard believed in his swing. He also revamped his season. Before June, Bard had a .174 average, splitting time with Wil Nieves. Since, Bard is hitting .400 (18 for 45). Saturday, he started for the fifth time in six games.

"We're trying to play the best team on the field right now, and we can't sit him right now," Manager Manny Acta said. "He's playing well."

Trade Talks With Pirates?

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which cited two baseball sources, the Nationals are in trade talks with the Pittsburgh Pirates about acquiring center fielder Nyjer Morgan.

Lastings Milledge, who has just started a rehab assignment in the Gulf Coast League, has also been discussed as part of the deal, according to the report.

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