Craig Stammen's test
Craig Stammen fell asleep after his start Tuesday night at 3:30 a.m., which is when he usually does on nights he starts, good or bad. He always thinks about what he could have done better, and Tuesday he had a lot to think about.
Stammen had allowed five runs in five innings, upping his season ERA 5.88 and, perhaps, endangering his chances of sticking in the Nationals rotation once Stephen Strasburg joins it. The same problem continues to oppress Stammen. He allowed thee runs in the first inning, upping his ERA in opening frames to 11.45. "That's horrible," he said.
When he arrived at the park yesterday, Stammen and pitching coach Steve McCatty talked about things. They talked about maybe changing Stammen's pregame routine. The conversation went deeper than that.
"He told me he didn't think I was very competitive [Tuesday] night," Stammen said. "That's a wake-up call when some people say that, about my body language and things like that. Maybe I got a little [upset] when the first two guys got hits, like 'Here we go again' feeling. I've got to be mentally tough to put that behind me and get after them. So we're going to do that against Cincinnati."
The first-inning issues do seem to be a mental block. Take out those 14 earned runs in 11 innings, and Stammen would have a 4.62 ERA. His struggles at the start of games torpedoed his chance at a successful first third of the season.
"It starts to play on your mind," McCatty said. "When it happens, and then you know it happens, and then you start guarding against it, and then it happens. Then you start putting pressure on yourself to not let it happen, and then it just sort of snowballs.
"He's thinking about it. You go out there and waiting for the other shoe to fall. You can't do that. You got to go back to be the guy I saw last year, the guy who attacks. Instead of waiting for things to happen, make things happen. Get back to yourself, which is confident, borderline chip-on-your-shoulder, we're playing hardball."
Stammen and McCatty focused on that idea, about "getting back to who I am," Stammen said. "Last year, I basically threw all fastballs, because it was the only thing I could. Maybe I was a little bit more aggressive last year."
In his maiden major league season last year, Stammen pitched with bone chips in his right elbow. On mornings after he started, he couldn't extend his arm far enough to shut his alarm off because his elbow was so stiff. Sliders force a pitcher to extend more than any pitch, and so Stammen couldn't throw them. He relied on his fastball.
This season, Stammen came into spring feeling 100 percent, with more zip on his fastball, more break on his curve. And, at last, he could throw his slider. And boy, is he throwing them. From data compiled by FanGraphs.com, here's the breakdown of how frequently Stammen threw fastballs, curves and sliders.
Fastball: 70.7 %
Curveball: 18 %
Slider: 1.7 %
Fastball: 55.3 %
Curveball: 15.1 %
Slider: 20.1 %
Stammen's fastball this season, again according to FanGraphs, has been 0.3 "runs" above average this season. His slider, meantime, is 2.2 "runs" below average. In this sense, Stammen's improved health has actually hurt him. The strength in his arm has persuaded him to throw a below-average pitch more than one-fifth of the time, and to throw his best pitch with 15 percent less frequency than last year.
"I'm getting beat on some bad breaking ball pitches, because I'm throwing a ton of them," Stammen said. "That's not who I am."
Stammen may have to figure it out in Class AAA Syracuse or the bullpen. Strasburg is going to knock someone off the team. It could be a reliever, with a start taking his place. Or it could be a starter heading down.
"Anybody on the club," Manager Jim Riggleman said. "Whether you're a reliever and you say, 'He might put one of these guys in the bullpen,' or you're a starter and your name is not Lannan or Hernandez, you're probably, Ooh, I wonder if it's going to be me.' I can't help you there. That's on you when you get the ball. That's life."
Stammen knows he hasn't convinced the Nationals they should keep him no matter what. "It's not my decision to make," Stammen said. "My only control is what I do. My job is to make the decision easy for them about sending me down. But I haven't pitched well enough lately. I can't even worry about. I've just got to go out there and pitch well against Cincinnati. If I give up runs in the first inning, then compete my butt off."
On Wednesday, Stammen was adamant he would start to turn his season around.
"It's just about how you come back out of those things," Stammen said. "We'll see what I'm made of here this next time. I'm tired of it. I want to put a stop to it. The buck stops there."
FROM THE POST
Boz says the Nationals have blown past the Orioles as the favored local team. He also drops a nice Jordan Zimmermann update.
The Nationals couldn't take advantage of their scoring chances or the lowly Astros in a 5-1 loss. Ian Desmond made three errors and the Nats ensured they'll head home with a losing record.
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 6, Buffalo 3: Boomer Whiting went 1 for 3 with a triple, a walk and four RBI. Josh Whitesell went 2 for 4. Joel Peralta recorded his 17th save with a scoreless ninth and lowered his ERA to 0.72. Erik Arnesen allowed one earned run in four innings on two hits and a walk.
Harrisburg 5, Richmond 1: Danny Espinosa went 2 for 5 with a home run. Chris Marrero went 4 for 5 with a double, raising his average to .263. Jason Jones allowed run on four hits and a walk in six innings, striking out five.
Potomac 12, Winston-Salem 4 Stephen Lombardozzi went 2 for 3 with a double and three walks. Nicholas Moresi went 3 for 3 with a double and a walk. Derek Norris went 2 for 6. Tyler Moore hit a home run.
Lakewood 5, Hagerstown 3: Lakewood scored four runs in the top of the ninth. Justin Bloxom went 2 for 4 with two doubles. Josh Smoker allowed no runs on four hits and three walks in five innings.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
The Nationals are no longer a laughingstock, writes Bernando Fallas of the Houston Chronicle.
Willie Harris has fond memories of Houston, writes Gene Duffy.
This is a little old, but Ryan Zimmerman sat down with the Batting Stance Guy and drank Gatorade.
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