Stammen states case for long relief role in 2012

Nationals right-handed reliever Craig Stammen has quietly put together a nice month of pitching as he gears up for the offseason and 2012 spring training.

That is not the way the year started off for Stammen. He was sent to Triple-A Syracuse out of spring training, then struggled in his first call to the majors this season.

On June 6 in San Francisco, Stammen gave up two hits and a costly earned run in two-thirds of an inning.

But since that night, he has not allowed a run in six straight major league outings. Stammen is 1-0 with a 0.87 ERA in 10 1/3 innings with 12 strikeouts and only four walks, and he has allowed only one hit during that span.

Take out that June 6 outing and Stammen has gone at least 1 1/3 innings in each opportunity this season.

So could Stammen be that long reliever that manager Davey Johnson has coveted since he took over for Jim Riggleman? Collin Balester has been given some of those chances with mixed results.

Stammen has pitched 5 1/3 innings in his last three calls from the bullpen: two innings against Florida, two innings against the Phillies and 1 2/3 innings at Florida on Monday in a crucial moment in the game.

“Oh, yeah, I will do anything that they want me to do,” Stammen said. “Whenever my name is called, I am going to go out there and give my best and we will see what happens. Hopefully, this September has shown them that maybe I can fulfill that role.”

Stammen came into this season with a 9-12 career record and a 4.94 ERA. This season, he spent most of his time at Triple-A Syracuse. A lot of that time he was teammates with Ross Detwiler, who also has had a big surge on the mound to finish off the season.

Both pitchers took that time to work on their skills on defense and hone their pitches so they would be ready for the next call.

“It was more of just getting a little bit better at everything else I was doing,” Stammen said. “I was looking to get better at my craft and learning every day. It is not really a drastic thing that you can change at this point in your career. It is more one of those things where you are trying to get better in any way, shape or form you can.”

Stammen can get more than one out and go for two innings, if necessary. He also can start if the need arises in an emergency situation. He is athletic enough to lay down that sacrifice bunt when called upon.

Balester, Tom Gorzelanny and Stammen all seem to be candidates for the long relief role in 2012, and all have shown success in that spot. Gorzelanny might be able to help his cause in that case because he is left-handed.

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