With the return of third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, the feeling was that the Nationals would likely make room on the roster by sending down a hitter to the minor leagues. Instead, the Nationals accommodated Zimmerman by optioning a pitcher.

Right-handed reliver Craig Stammen, who had a 4.50 ERA in two innings this season, was sent Tuesday to Class AAA Syracuse. Stammen, who began last season as starter in the Nationals lineup before heading to the bullpen, began the year at Syracuse and was recalled to the majors in early June.

“We just had this road trip where we had three relievers that never even got up in the bullpen and had to even play catch,” Manager Jim Riggleman said. “This is the most well rested we’ve been. You take that plus three of four guys that really haven’t gotten any work, that’s a good thing. That means your starters are going deep in the game.

“The reason we can do it is because we have a number of quality guys who have options. If we run into a situation here in the next couple nights in which we use our bullpen a little too heavy, we’ll get on the phone and get one here tomorrow. We’re just one phone call away from having another pitcher here. In the meantime, it allows us to carry another guy on the bench, another pitch hitter, pinch runner or defensive replacement.”

The Nationals have shown they are willing to call up relievers for short stints to boost a bullpen that has pitched well, especially behind the consistent arms of Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen. Twice this season already, the Nationals have recalled Collin Balester from Syracuse when they needed a bullpen arm.

As a result, Riggleman will continue to use a rotation of utility players across the field from Brian Bixler to pinch hitting specialist Matt Stairs to Jerry Hairston, who can play both in the outfield and infield.