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Craig Stammen states his case for Nationals rotation

Some nights after he pitched last season, Craig Stammen wondered if he would be able to play catch the next day. The bone chips in right elbow and the pain they wrought prevented him from straightening his arm. There were mornings when he could not reach with his right arm to turn off his alarm clock. He sometimes skipped shaving.

The best part about this spring training for Stammen, he said, is "just the way that I feel and how it's fun to throw the baseball again." He can play catch every day and not feel that pain. He can hone a certain pitch because it no longer hurts every time he throws. There is something else fun about this camp.

"Success," Stammen said, "also makes you enjoy it a little more, too."

On Monday, Stammen allowed the Mets two hits and two unearned runs in four innings, striking out four and walking none. In 9 1/3 innings this spring, Stammen has a 2.89 ERA, eight strikeouts, two walks, and, perhaps one place in the Nationals starting rotation.

"He's really making a case for himself to be in the rotation," Manager Jim Riggleman said.

"That's what I came here to do," Stammen said. "That was my plan. So far, things have gone my way a little bit. I'm in a pretty decent spot, I think."

Last year, Stammen showed the Nationals his toughness. The last time he felt good all season was a start against the Tigers in spring training. He started the year in Class AAA Syracuse, and in the cold weather his arm started aching. He lost range of motion and his condition improved by the time the Nationals called him up in May. After the all-star break, he never felt right again. He still made 19 starts.

This year, Stammen wants to show the Nationals his full ability. In his minor league career before last season, he struck out 7.0 batters per nine innings. Once he hit the majors, that dropped to 4.1. He couldn't get any batters to swing and miss at his curveball, like he always had. This year, after surgery last fall to remove the bone chips, he feels like his curve is back.

"My pitches feel like they felt my whole life, except for last year," Stammen said. "It's fun to pitch with that stuff."

Stammen's performance Monday set the bar high for the other three pitchers - Livan Hernandez, J.D. Martin and Scott Olsen - making a closing argument to make the rotation. Riggleman takes into consideration what the competition means to the pitchers. "The pressure's on you every time out," he said. "There's really nothing you can do about that."

Stammen tries to block it out. He works hard between starts, sets his mind at ease and tries to let his ability take over on the mound.

"It's not easy at all," he said. "You have to trick yourself almost daily. You can't start rooting against people. They're your teammates. You've got to root for them. You got to be a good teammate. You just got to go out there and do your thing. Whatever they decided is whatever they decide."

The mental strain now for Stammen pales to what he endured last season. The grind of worrying about his arm is gone. Stammen can simply pitch, and for him that's where the fun is.

"This is a lot easier on my mind, not having to worry about how I feel," Stammen said. "I worry more about how I'm getting these guys out."

By Adam Kilgore  |  March 22, 2010; 6:18 PM ET
Categories:  Craig Stammen  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Zimmerman heats up, Maxwell slumps, Marquis makes progress
Next: Scott Olsen's big day

Comments

Zuckerman beat you to this post Kilgy.

Posted by: peteywheatstraw | March 22, 2010 6:25 PM | Report abuse

Sheffield?

Posted by: periculum | March 22, 2010 6:48 PM | Report abuse

petey, no one cares who posted first. This goes for Kilgore and Zuckerman too, I promise.

I guess maybe you do....but you going solo on that.

Posted by: Sunderland | March 22, 2010 7:07 PM | Report abuse

Sunderland, I think you meant Goessling, Zuckerman and Ladson ... of course there may be a new roving reporter in Drew Storen's mom Pam?

Posted by: periculum | March 22, 2010 7:21 PM | Report abuse

repost from earlier...

Jermaine Dye = no thanks; His skills are eroding faster than beachfront in a hurricane.
Gary Sheffield = Hell no. He has a long-earned reputation as a me-first, "clubhouse lawyer" type, dating all the way back to Milwaukee.

The team has six OF left in camp (Bernadina, Harris, Maxwell, Mench, Morse, Taveras). There's a viable offensive platoon in there somewhere, without sacrificing defense.
Posted by: BinM | March 22, 2010 6:28 PM

Posted by: BinM | March 22, 2010 7:39 PM | Report abuse

relax, jokes can still exist in the blogosphere.

Posted by: peteywheatstraw | March 22, 2010 7:47 PM | Report abuse

With the probable annointment of Mock as the #3SP, I think Stammen looks like he's more likely contending with Batista for the LR/SpS role. Hernandez & Olsen will battle for the #4SP slot, and for whatever reason, John D. Martin seems to have drawn the 'short straw' in the rotation & looks destined to head back to SYR. He & Atilano seem like the next cuts, imo.

It seems that the team will hang onto Walker until the bloody end; Some players just get longer leashes than others, I suppose.

Posted by: BinM | March 22, 2010 8:03 PM | Report abuse

One last thought before I go - I'd rather have Desmond working on his concentration / fielding issues out of the limelight in SYR than in WSH. It doesn't matter how well he hits, five errors in 46 chances (a .891FA at SS!) are NOT ML acceptable numbers.

Posted by: BinM | March 22, 2010 8:16 PM | Report abuse

BinM,

It is interesting to note? That this recent spate of 4 errors all came in the last 2-3 games. After Guzman was reinserted at shortstop in games, kind of after the announcement of open competition.

You are probably right ... he's more than likely Syracuse bound.

Tension choke as opposed to lack of competence? Loss of concentration from being suddenly shoved in the limelight?

Posted by: periculum | March 22, 2010 8:22 PM | Report abuse

Another possibility in right field may be Bruntlet? Isn't he capable of playing there as well? He has hit well especially extra base wise?

In terms of best offense available without sacrificing too much defensively wouldn't Desmond and Bruntlet do? With Super Willy doing his usual of playing every outfield position? Throw in Morse and Bernadina (or Maxwell)?

Posted by: periculum | March 22, 2010 9:02 PM | Report abuse

This is something I think people tend to underestimate--these guys usually hurt someplace. They're working at the extreme range of their physical ability, most of the time, just to be on the margins and keep a job.
And yet, nobody seems to ask that about coal miners or hod carriers, who don't make six-figure salaries.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | March 22, 2010 9:03 PM | Report abuse

Or commercial fisherman.

Posted by: periculum | March 22, 2010 9:30 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Kilgore, could I interest you in a grammar checker? The omissions of a word here and a word there are more than a transient problem any more, making it tough to read your posts. Thanx.

Posted by: BoteMan | March 22, 2010 9:50 PM | Report abuse

peric:
Based on Desmond's fielding history in the minors at SS, it seems more like a given, rather than something triggered by an event. Great range, but hampered by a lack of focus at times. Maybe send him out for extra infield & just beat grounders & pop-ups at him for 45 minutes a day until 'seeing the ball into the glove' is 2nd nature.

Posted by: BinM | March 22, 2010 10:01 PM | Report abuse

G Ch PO A E DP Fld% RF/G
Desmond 630 2964 1035 1740 189 388 .936 4.40
Espinosa 144 703 249 427 27 90 .962 4.69

Desmond has spent 6 years learning to be a shortstop. Plus spent the winter working on these issues. Espinosa looks better on paper but only after 2 years.

Losing six years of place mostly at shortstop?

Posted by: periculum | March 22, 2010 10:39 PM | Report abuse

or commercial fishermen, indeed.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | March 22, 2010 11:19 PM | Report abuse

or most disabled people going to work every day anyway.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | March 22, 2010 11:24 PM | Report abuse

Ah, periculum, only for our beloved Nats could it be said:

"In terms of best offense available without sacrificing too much defensively wouldn't Desmond and Bruntlet do?"

We should dispatch the archivists to find the last team where a tandem which includes Eric Bruntlet could be the best option in *RF*

Posted by: NatsInNC1 | March 23, 2010 12:10 AM | Report abuse

shouldn't take long, when one team would have an option including Adam Dunn as the best option.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | March 23, 2010 12:35 AM | Report abuse

I am thinking that Dunn is at first base only until further notice.

I had another thought ... okay its what you guys hate ... intuition ... same things that told me that JD Martin and Morse might surprise people ... I use stats to bring epiphanies, instead of ignoring intuition using stats ... using as adjunct.

I have observed that players especially the younger prospect types keep talking about not "wanting bad performances" even from competitors ... even cheering for them. I don't remember hearing that sort of thing last year ... not from multiple players ... and there's a nuance to it ... and then the Dukes thing. Makes me thing that Guzman isn't long for this team.

Wondering if perhaps Rizzo isn't just collecting individual talent through prospects but also building collective talent through some sort of motivational team building? And it looks many of these guys will all be together in Harrisburg building that nucleus? I wonder?

Of course Mike Rizzo could read this and then start sending guys around willy nilly ... ~laughing~

I just wonder ... that's all.

Posted by: periculum | March 23, 2010 1:18 AM | Report abuse

I'm beginning to be concerned at how many players we have who are finding competition in spring training so stressful that they aren't performing. It does not get easier when the season starts.

Posted by: markfromark | March 23, 2010 5:35 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the piece. Hope that Stammen can continue to come on strong.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 23, 2010 6:43 AM | Report abuse

peric - very philosophical at 1:00 am.

Pudge, I think, started the "I'm not competing with my teammates" thing. He was very clear about that. He's here to play and he's here to do well but he does not compete with his teammates.

Guzman said the same sort of thing, it may have been meant in the same context, it may have not. The writer who cited it left a lot to be construed by the reader. And some readers took it as an arrogant statement of entitlement. I did not.

Posted by: Sunderland | March 23, 2010 7:12 AM | Report abuse

After six years learning SS, Ian Desmond appears unable to play his position at the major league level. Who's been promoting this guy?

A bunch of no-name pitchers, an unsettled SS and RF and a lame left fielder. This is the situation with a couple of weeks to go. The team's opening day roster is rounding into shape as a near-disaster.

What a "brain trust!" Bring back Clark Griffith!

Posted by: JohnRDC | March 23, 2010 8:06 AM | Report abuse

Boy, a lot of people here can't seem to wait to jump all over Desmond. As I stated earlier, after his first error (well into spring training)a blogger was on his case. After his second error, said blogger was joined by more. His last game, of course, was very poor defensively--must make the naysayers very happy, exonerated or something.
Last season Zim had a game in which he made, I believe, three errors. Some were on his case then, and we know the outcome of that. Not that I'm suggesting Desmond is a Zimmerman, but the rookie has great range and one of the best arms in the system. His letdowns can be overcome and he doesn't have to go back to the minors for that to happen.


Posted by: jcampbell1 | March 23, 2010 8:35 AM | Report abuse

Disappointing news of the morning? Mike MacDougal has been released by the Marlins. I was looking forward to the Nats being able to hit (or walk) against the guy this year.

+1/2St.

Posted by: kevincostello | March 23, 2010 9:36 AM | Report abuse

The team has six OF left in camp (Bernadina, Harris, Maxwell, Mench, Morse, Taveras). There's a viable offensive platoon in there somewhere, without sacrificing defense.
Posted by: BinM | March 22, 2010 6:28 PM

Um No there isn't. Right field will be a sucking chest wound for 2010. No getting around that. Not that Dye or Sheff are the answer.

Posted by: traderkirk | March 23, 2010 10:11 AM | Report abuse

Sorry for Mac, but just as well that the Marlins aren't getting any help there. The latest example of Last Stop: NatsTown. Who leaves here and does well? Even Alfonso is tanking.

Soriano hit .241/.303/.423 with 20 homers for the Cubs last season.
Dukes hit .250/.337/.393, but only 8 home runs for DC, and they fired him.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | March 23, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

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