More On Cabrera, Stammen (With Q&As)
Unwilling to tolerate one extreme -- the unmatched ineffectiveness of starting pitcher Daniel Cabrera -- the Washington Nationals today moved toward another extreme, committing to a starting rotation of uninterrupted youth. The Nationals banished Cabrera to the bullpen, where he will pitch in non-pressure long relief situations, and announced the plan to replace him in the rotation with 25-year-old Craig Stammen, who is scheduled to make his major league debut tomorrow night.
With Stammen in the fold, the Nationals' staff is composed of four rookies and one second-year pitcher. (Officially, John Lannan was a rookie last year.) Stammen, a 2005 12th-round draft pick, didn't figure into the team's long-term plans until this spring, when he developed a two-seam fastball that revived his career. With a cameo Grapefruit League start in March, Stammen, for perhaps the first time, forced himself onto the organization's radar. Seven starts this year with Class AAA Syracuse (4-2, 1.80 ERA) affirmed his status as a prospect.
"He was a little bit of a late-bloomer," acting general manager Mike Rizzo said. "We saw him last year, and he was a little bit of a different pitcher."
Like fellow rookie Ross Detwiler, recalled earlier this week from Class AA Harrisburg, Stammen has no assurance of a long-term spot in the rotation. But so long as Cabrera remains in the bullpen, either player has an open invitation to pitch his way toward permanence.
To clear room for Stammen -- who must be added to the 40-man roster -- the Nationals must make a corresponding roster move; that will come after tonight's game, Rizzo said. (You can probably expect the team to DFA or demote one of its relievers, because right now, at least for one night, the team has a nine-man bullpen.)
In his six-year big league career, Cabrera has made just one relief appearance. His new role, though, does not reflect suitability. It reflects a last-ditch chance. Signed this offseason to a one-year, $2.6 million deal, Cabrera came to Washington as an admitted project -- all velocity and wildness. The Nationals got even less than they bargained for. In eight starts, Cabrera showed plenty of wildness and little velocity. Washington lost every one of his games. Cabrera, speaking today, described his performance as "terrible," and added, "nothing good happens every time I go out there." Cabrera, 27, emphasized that he understood the reasons behind the move.
Manager Manny Acta said that Cabrera will be used only to start innings, allowing him more time to warm up, as he's accustomed to. Asked if Cabrera's bullpen role would be permanent, Acta said, "Hey, whatever works. If he come comes out of the bullpen lights-out and pitches good and he likes the role, why change it? So we'll see."
OK, now for some reaction/comments from those involved.
Acting GM MIKE RIZZO, on Cabrera's bullpen move and Stammen's promotion...
Q: Can you elaborate on, No. 1, taking Cabrera out of the rotation, and also bringing up Stammen to replace him?
Well, Stammen fit the rotation requirements. His turn was yesterday. The rotation worked for us. And he's earned it. He's pitching outstanding in Class AAA. He's come up with a two-seam fastball [in spring training] that's really separated himself from his performance last year. He's earned it.
Q: You now have your entire rotation as rookies and second-year players. How does that feel?
It says that we have a good corps of young major league starters, and it says that the future looks bright, and we're hoping that the rookies come of age sooner than probably expected and they win a lot of games for us.
Q: With Olsen on the DL and Cabrera out of the rotation, will we see Stammen and Detwiler in the rotation for awhile?
You know, we're going to take it start-by-start and see where we're at, health-wise with Olsen first of all and see what [happens] performance-wise. Stammen is still in the developmental stage of his career -- 24 or 25 years old, and we don't want to do anything to retard his progress. So we'll watch him closely.
Q: There has to be a corresponding move made. Does that come tomorrow?
The corresponding move will come after the game tonight.
Q: When did Stammen first come onto your radar?
He was a little bit of a late-bloomer. We saw him last year, and he was a little bit of a different pitcher. He was a power pitcher with a four-seam fastball that was pretty straight, and over the winter he talked with Steve McCatty and early in spring training he came up with a two-seam fastball that has a lot of run and you can see the results. His ground ball-to-flyball ratio is extremely good.
Q: With Detwiler you've clearly said it's start-to-start. With Stammen, is there any sense he's farther along, and will he be given a longer leash here?
I think it's safe to describe his leash as, he'll be evaluated start-to-start also.
Q: With Cabrera, is there the eventual hope that he can rebuild himself and earn his way back to the rotation? Or could this permanent?
No, I think Randy [St. Claire] and Manny saw some positives of improvement last game, especially the first four innings. And the reason we put him in the bullpen is to work his way back through his mechanical problems and see if there's any semblance of a guy we can rely on in the rotation.
Manager MANNY ACTA on Cabrera's move to the bullpen...
Q: How did he take the news?
Good. Obviously he wanted to keep starting; this is something new for him. But he was very professional about it. He understood that getting mad or showing any anger wasn't going to help. He said he'd do his best, work with Randy and take advantage of the opportunity to keep pitching.
Q: Will he pitch in long relief?
Yeah. As of now, you just can't throw him into those very crucial roles. He's just going to pitch in the middle.
Q: Can you be specific on what he's working on with Randy?
Yeah, they're working on his delivery, speeding up his delivery a bit more because he tends to slow down and it seems like he's guiding the ball. So Randy wants more consistency on that. And also, standing on the rubber: Sometimes from the wind-up he stands in the middle of it, and then from the stretch he stands in the corner of the rubber. So they're trying to get some consistency so that way he doesn't lose a foot on his release point depending on how he's pitching.
Q: You said before you can't afford to "hide" somebody in the bullpen. Is this a bit different now just because you have an eight-man bullpen?
Yeah, we have eight guys now, and the only thing that will be different with him is, we won't be bringing him in in the middle of innings. He's not used to it, so it'll take longer for him to get ready and get loose. So we'll have to give him enough time.
Q: Could you see him as a reliever full-time?
Hey, whatever works. If he come comes out of the bullpen lights-out and pitches good and he likes the role, why change it? So we'll see.
DANIEL CABRERA, about the move to the bullpen...
Q: How do you feel about the move to the bullpen?
First thing, it doesn't feel comfortable to me because I've never been there. But I'm a simple employee for this team, I work here, and whatever they ask me to do I've got to do it.
Q: What do you have to fix?
I have to throw strikes. It's been the same for my career -- throw strikes. It's been worse than ever here. I just have to keep working.
Q: Do you think going to the bullpen can help or change anything for you?
I don't know, because I've never been there. I have to pitch a couple times and see how I feel. If they think it's gonna help me, I'm going to try.
Q: Did they give you a sense that if it goes well you can get a spot in the rotation again?
Um, that's what they say, but I just go out and pitch. If they think I'm ready to go back to the rotation, I'm ready to come back.
Q: Has this season been difficult for you?
It's been terrible. You know, it's been terrible. Nothing good happens every time I go out there. Something bad happens.
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