Craig Stammen has a locker at Nationals Park once again, down the hall from where he used to store his things, in the smaller, square room where visiting teams operate while playing in D.C. His locker is one of the bigger ones in that clubhouse, as Stammen, 33, is one of the more experienced players on an inexperienced Padres roster.
“We’ve got a great team, a great young group, kind of starting over like we did when I was with the Nationals,” Stammen said. “It’s kind of fun to be a part of that.”
The Nationals drafted Stammen in 2005, their first ever draft, one of their first-ever draft picks after moving to D.C. He pitched parts of seven seasons with them, a reliable middle-innings eater whose Nationals tenure ended with a whimper after he had surgery in April of 2015 to repair torn flexor tendons, then was non-tendered in December that year. He spent the next season in the minor leagues with the Indians’ organization, working his way back from a spring training setback, rehabbing and wrestling himself through 23 minor league appearances.
“It was me wanting to be healthy, and I wasn’t really up to the task. It was frustrating at times, because that was also a year where I was sort of out of baseball, but still involved, but not in the big leagues” Stammen said. “I got to rehab in Double-A, Triple-A, go back through the minor leagues again. It was a blessing seeing those guys who are trying to make it to the big leagues and saying ‘Hey, it’s attainable.'”
By the end of last season, Stammen felt like himself again for the first time in nearly two full seasons. This offseason he signed a minor league deal with the Padres and got a non-roster invite to spring training. He earned a spot in the Opening Day bullpen and has appeared in 17 games, including Saturday’s, when he threw two scoreless innings in the Nationals’ 3-0 win. He has a 5.02 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 28 2/3 innings.
Friday was the first time he walked into Nationals Park as a visiting player, wearing No. 34 and “SD” on his hat. As he was injured, he made it a goal to return to Nationals Park; he finally achieved that goal Saturday, though he admitted he thought it might be out of reach as injuries held him down.
In the season and a half since Stammen pitched here, many of his old bullpen colleagues have come and gone. Those familiar faces such as Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and the rest departed the same year Stammen did.
“All my friends are on different teams,” Stammen said. “We were in New York, I saw Jerry Blevins. Then I saw Clip, because obviously the Yankees were in town. I talk to Storen a bunch. I talk to Aaron Barrett a bunch. I talk to Ross Detwiler a bunch. We’re all really good friends, we just aren’t on the same team anymore.”
Blake Treinen is the only remaining member of the bullpen from Opening Day in 2015, Stammen’s last season with the Nationals.
In seven seasons, Stammen appeared in 229 games for the Nationals with a 3.91 ERA.