Craig Stammen started the spring as a candidate to be bumped to the Nationals' bullpen. It appears he'll end it as a member of the Nationals' rotation.
Manager Jim Riggleman said this afternoon "it's a good bet" Stammen will be in the rotation when the Nationals start the season. Stammen, who has a 2.89 ERA this spring, will pitch on Saturday against the Mets in Port St. Lucie, but it seems he's already sewed up a spot with how he's pitched this spring.
His fastball has rebounded into the low 90s after arthroscopic surgery to clean bone chips out of his elbow, and his curveball has also been sharper as a result. "It's the breaking ball we heard about in years past," Riggleman said. Stammen has notched eight strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings this spring, after posting only 4.1 strikeouts per nine innings last year.
If Stammen is the fifth starter, the Nationals' rotation is likely set, and would set up this way: John Lannan would pitch Opening Day against the Phillies, Jason Marquis would pitch the second game on Wednesday and Livan Hernandez would start that Thursday. Then, the Nationals would go to New York and start Garrett Mock, Lannan again (to keep him on an every-fifth-day cycle) and start Stammen for the first time on Sun., April 11 against the Mets. Stammen's first scheduled day would be April 6, when the Nationals have an off-day, so he'd effectively be skipped the first time through the rotation.
Barring a change, the news is a major boost for the former 12th-round draft pick, who wasn't even in big-league camp last year but threw 105 2/3 innings for the Nationals last season. He was strong in spurts with the repertoire of a right-handed Lannan, throwing a fastball that topped out in the high 80s but induced handfuls of groundouts. While he's never going to be a power pitcher, he's shown an ability to miss bats this spring.
"He's been the sharpest of anybody other than Lannan," Riggleman said of Stammen.
And it looks like he'll be rewarded for it.