The Nationals’ comeback never came Saturday, thwarted by Bartolo Colon’s diabolical sinker and Juan Lagares’s grand theft in center field. But after Gio Gonzalez dug the Nationals a customary hole, Craig Stammen fulfilled his portion of the familiar formula.
Even if the Nationals could not take advantage for one day, Stammen and the Nationals’ bullpen afforded them the best opportunity at a comeback. Stammen fired four scoreless innings in the Nationals’ 5-2 loss, the latest feat for a right-hander bullpen-mates adoringly call The Trunk Slammer. When a job needs doing, they reason, Stammen does it, slams the trunk and drives away.
“There’s not a lot of long relievers that go down in history, but he’s well on his way,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “This guy is unbelievable. I think for a lot of other Major League Baseball teams, this guy would be a starter. It’s invaluable what he brings to this team. We’ve seen it over the last few years. It’s impressive every time he goes out there. He knows how he wants to attack the hitters. He goes at it with conviction. And it’s fun to play behind him.”
On Saturday, Stammen allowed one hit, a single. He also recorded one hit, a double to the track in right-center. He struck out two and walked one. He needed just 54 pitches for his four innings, which tied a career-long relief outing. He lowered his ERA to 2.52 in 25 innings, the most any pitcher has thrown in relief all season.
Stammen’s work has mostly come in the unheralded, thankless role of long relief. He enters only after something goes wrong, asked to prevent utter collapse.
“That’s what makes it that much more impressive,” Desmond said. “Because these guys, generally they have the lead and they’re confident going up to the plate and he comes in and humbles them real quick for the most part. I can’t say enough. This guy is a tremendous asset to our ballclub. I don’t think anybody here sees him unappreciated. We all appreciate the work he puts in and the effort he gives you every time.”
He makes drudgery meaningful – because he can hold deficits, it allows the offense the chance to chip away. It didn’t work out Saturday, but Stammen is one reason the Nationals have 12 comeback wins.
The Nationals’ entire bullpen has been part, too. Saturday, Aaron Barrett and Jerry Blevins also chipped in scoreless innings, which lowered the bullpen’s collective ERA to 2.11.
“That’s yeoman’s work right there, man,” Manager Matt Williams said. “That’s hard to do. [Stammen] has been phenomenal. The rest of the guys down there pitched really well today, and they have been. We just couldn’t recover from that deficit today. It’s hard to do on a consistent basis. Commend them for their work, though.”