Craig Stammen is pegged as the long right-handed reliever out of the bullpen for the Nationals. But Thursday his role became that of closer as he struck out the side in the 10th inning to help lift the Nationals over the Reds, 3-2.
Stammen (1-0) struck out Willie Harris, Drew Stubbs and Zach Cozart. The last strike out of Cozart was particularly emphatic. It was of the looking variety, which brought with it a huge roar from the partisan 40,907 at Nationals Park on home opening day.
That seemed to reignite the Nationals offense which got aggressive in the bottom of the 10th to find a way to score one run and win it. A wild pitch by Alfredo Simon a few minutes later, scored Ryan Zimmerman from third base with the game deciding run.
So, does Stammen think manager Davey Johnson wants him to be used later in games?
“I think Davey does a good job of handling the bullpen,” Stammen said. “I think me and Tom (Gorzelanny) have a pretty good idea of when we are going to be put in the games. That situation is usually when the long man comes in. Our bullpen is pretty set to where we know what is going to happen. Davey is doing a good job of using us in those situations.”
“I am a relief pitcher, currently. They can throw me wherever they want and I will do my job. I am in the big leagues so I am enjoying it for sure.”
Stammen said winning games like this when you don’t blow someone out will pay dividends come the rough and tumble final days in August and September.
“It is a good feeling,” Stammen said. “We have been fighting in every game. It has all been pretty close games. It is good to pull out these close ones early on so later on they are not so gut wrenching.”
It also doesn’t hurt to win a game against the Cincinnati Reds when you grew up in Versailles, Ohio, where pretty much everyone is a lifetime Reds fans.
“Oh yeah,” Stammen said. “I was definitely juiced up. I know every single person that I know from where I am from was watching that game. I had to hold up my reputation there for that inning.”
And maybe, just maybe, there are a few more Nationals fans in northwestern Ohio today after Stammen’s quick work against the Redlegs.