The Nationals’ bullpen took over the game last night in the sixth inning, with a man on first and no outs in a one-run game. Craig Stammen came through the bullpen gates first, and he would start four innings of no-run, one-hit ball. Of the 12 outs Nationals relievers recorded, the two that may have been most crucial came in an uncommon way.
This season, owing mostly to the glacial deliveries of their pitching staff, Nationals catchers had thrown out only 15 percent of base stealers, worst in the league. The problem began last year and persisted into this season, even as bench coach Randy Knorr hammered home the point to pitchers. Tuesday night, the message finally came through. Stammen and Drew Storen had been among the worst culprits, but both relievers delivered pitches fast enough for Wilson Ramos to throw out two base stealers in two innings.
“I thought those were key plays in a ballgame,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “Those were huge outs.”
Stammen entered the game with Matt den Dekker on first with no outs. The Mets had grabbed the momentum, and Stammen and Ramos squashed it. Stammen threw a fastball, and Ramos fired to second to nail den Dekker as Ian Desmond made a slick tag. Stammen used to take 1.9 seconds to deliver a pitch, which leaves a catcher no chance.
“Just paying more attention to it,” Stammen said. “And I’m getting a little better at it, too, knowing the situations when they’re going to run, when you can get away with being a little slower and making a better pitch.
“It’s me being quicker to the plate. Because I have that jerky kind of motion. Sometimes it slows me down quite a bit. But I’ve been kind of speeding up my tempo anyway, so that’s made it a little better here of late.”
In Storen’s career, 15 out of 16 base stealers against him had been successful, including four out of four this season. He would take nearly two seconds to deliver a pitch. When the Nationals demoted Storen to the minors, they issued a directive to stifle base runners with more care.
With one out in the seventh, he walked Eric Young Jr., one of the most dangerous speed threats in the league. It was not a matter of if Young would try to move into scoring position, but if Storen could help stop him.
“It’s not necessary to be too much smart to know they’re going to run,” Ramos said.
No longer employing his exaggerated, straight-leg delivery, Storen has lowered his time to the plate to 1.3 seconds. He kicked his front leg and fired. Young bolted. After a smooth transfer and quick release, Ramos’s bullet throw hissed to the front of second base. Desmond applied the tag, and Young had been wiped out. Storen survived a two-out walk and punched up a zero.
“That’s huge,” Storen said. “It’s just all part of what I was working on. When you’re able to pitch like that and hold runners on, it’s good. It’s paid off.”
Both Stammen and Storen were quick to give Ramos credit, and he deserved it. He has always had a strong arm. But the quickness of his release has improved to a stunning rate, owing largely to improved footwork.
“Ramos is just unbelievable,” Storen said. “Just trying to feed the shooter.”
“My arm feels good right now,” Ramos said. “I know those guys run real good, they’re good basestealers. I just try to move my feet quick and put the ball in the air and see what happens. That was a key for the game, that feels great too. I feel happy for those guys I throw out. I just want to keep working and try to help the team win.”
Ramos has helped the Nationals in every way. He smoked a two-out, RBI single to give the Nationals their fourth run last night. He has also caught 17 consecutive games despite spending two DL stints with a strained hamstring.
“He’s being a warrior right now, catching all those games in a row and kind of proving he can be an everyday catcher for the whole season,” Stammen said.
And he’s also proving he can cut down runners when given a chance
FROM THE POST
Jayson Werth led the Nationals to a 6-3 victory over the Mets with another two doubles and a homer.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Trenton 8, Harrisburg 2: The Senators fell behind in the Eastern League Championship, 1-0. Justin Bloxom went 2 for 4 with a double. Brian Goodwin went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts. Steve Souza went 1 for 2 with two walks and a steal. Blake Treinen allowed five runs in 2 2/3 innings on four hits and two walks, striking out three.
Salem 6, Potomac 4: The P-Nats were swept, 3-0, for the Mills Cup. Adrian Sanchez went 2 for 3 with a double. Adrian Nieto went 2 for 4 with a double. Brandon Miller went 2 for 4. Sammy Solis allowed five runs in 3 1/3 innings on six hits and two walks, striking out four.
Savannah 6, Hagerstown 2: The Suns are tied, 1-1, in the South Atlantic Championship series. Mike McQuillan went 3 for 4. Bryan Lippincott went 2 for 4 with a triple. Austin Voth allowed three runs in 1 1/3 innings on one hit and three walks, striking out none.