The last six outs Craig Stammen have recorded go down in the scorebook as such: strikeout swinging, strikeout swinging, strikeout swinging, strikeout swinging, strikeout swinging, strikeout swinging.
“I kind of messed up,” manager Davey Johnson said last night. “I should have brought in Stammen earlier because he seems to make things happen when he comes in.”
Stammen has been absolutely filthy in his last two outings, having struck out the side against the Reds in consecutive games. And since the Nationals have come through with a run in the bottom half of both of the frames Stammen has pitched, he’s recorded two straight extra-inning wins.
“He’s putting a lot of guys in the truck early,” fellow reliever Sean Burnett laughed. “He’s an exciting pitcher, and it’s good to see him get that opportunity and take advantage of it.”
Burnett, meanwhile, had his back tighten up a little bit while warming in the ‘pen last night, but he said he expects to be good to go today. This wasn’t the same back issue that he had in spring, when back spasms made it so that Burnett could barely move; it was just some tightness which the lefty reliever feels will likely just be a one-day issue.
The Nats’ infielders recorded two errors in yesterday’s game, and they actually came on back-to-back plays in the seventh inning. But ignoring those two miscues by first baseman Adam LaRoche and shortstop Ian Desmond, Washington’s infield defense has been spectacular recently.
All four infielders made ridiculous plays last night, starting with Desmond ranging deep into the hole to glove a Scott Rolen grounder in the fifth inning and then gunning the Reds third baseman at first. LaRoche made a nice pick to record the out, and he did the same just two batters later when Ryan Zimmerman dove to his left, snared a Ryan Ludwick hot shot and then threw across the diamond to get Ludwick at first.
Danny Espinosa got into the act two innings later when he ran to his left to grab a Rolen pop-up and then threw quickly across his body to first to double up Joey Votto to end the inning.
“Us infielders, we have fun with each other,” Zimmerman said. “I think we’ll put our infield up with just about anyone in the big leagues right now. Adam obviously being healthy, he’s one of the best. And those two guys up the middle are about as athletic and versatile as you can get. It’s a fun infield to be a part of.”
Roger Bernadina made an - uh - interesting play in the 12th inning last night, when he took a wide turn around third on a ground ball to short, assuming the throw would go to first and he could try and score. But shortstop Zack Cozart threw behind Bernadina, catching him off third. Bernadina was able to stay in a rundown long enough for catcher Wilson Ramos to go all the way to third, but it was a bizarre sequence, to be sure.
“The shortstop made a great play because if he throws to first, (Bernadina’s) going to score,” Johnson explained. “Bernie did a good job once he got trapped in letting the runner get to second. I don’t know why (Ramos) tried to take third because we were still in scoring position. Luckily, we got there safely. That shortstop’s a pretty heads-up player. If he just thinks about throwing out Ramos, we win the game right there.”
Johnson made an interesting point when discussing Jayson Werth last night, and it’s one that was reinforced by Zimmerman: Both guys feel that with LaRoche and Zimmerman back in the lineup on a full-time basis, Werth doesn’t feel like he needs to press as much this year. He can go about his own business and focus on getting in a zone, which could lead to positive results.
“I think with Zim healthy and LaRoche healthy and a lot of the younger players establishing last year and growing up a little bit, I think he can just concentrate on being Jayson Werth, more so than kind of trying to spread himself thin,” Johnson said. “He’s a heck of an athlete. I think any time, this game is tough enough. When you start carrying the burden of teammates and trying to help out. I think he doesn’t feel the need to do that this year and I think he’s going to be a lot more focused.”