Stammen calls return to Nats Park with Padres "exciting"

The Nationals welcome the San Diego Padres to D.C. for a weekend series starting tonight. It is the first time Craig Stammen has returned to Nats Park since he elected free agency in late 2015.

"It was exciting," Stammen said of his return today. "It's exciting to go a city where you are familiar with everything there and you can tell the bus driver where to go and all that kind of stuff. It's fun to be back. I didn't know if I'd ever get back, but it's fun to be back."

Stammen-Throws-White.jpgI spoke to him the day before the Nats declined to re-sign him in December 2015.

Stammen was signed by the Indians in 2016 to a minor league contract. Due to injuries, Stammen didn't play for Cleveland last season.

The Padres signed him to a minor league deal in late 2016 and he made the club out of spring training. He was considered a long shot to make the team when spring workouts began.

"I was just searching for what it felt like before," Stammen said. "I didn't know if it would ever get to that point. Towards the very end of the season I started feeling good again and starting being able to recover to where I could pitch more often and stuff like that. And then spring training was a little bit better, a little bit better, and then I felt even better as the season has gone on this year."

Stammen pitched for the Nationals for seven seasons from 2009 through 2015. He was a starter in 2009-2010 for 38 games and then moved to the bullpen. In 2012, he was 6-1 with a 2.34 ERA with the Nats. In 2013, he went 7-6 with a 2.76 ERA. In 2015, he appeared in only five games because of a torn muscle in his right arm and missed the rest of the season.

Stammen said the last two years have been a process of getting healthy again and believing he could pitch with the kind of success he had had in his best years with the Nationals.

"Hopefully, my brain is a little smarter than it was then," Stammen smiled. "But I'm a little older and a little wiser, hopefully. But I'd like to hope my stuff was very similar. Physically, I feel back to where I was."

And with the Padres, he feels a little bit like he did when he was a starter with the Nats in 2009-2010, because they are employing him in long relief roles. In six of his last seven appearances, he has pitched two innings or more. Four times this season he has pitched three full innings in a game.

"I've been pitching long relief mostly," Stammen said. "I've pitched more three inning games here in the last two weeks then I have in my whole career. It was kind of exciting to log those innings. It kind of got me out of my funk a little bit. Blessing in disguise getting to pitch those games, so I'm excited to where the rest of the season will take me."

Stammen said his time with the Padres takes him back to when he was trying to make the club in D.C. That helped his confidence too.

"Yeah, it does, kind of getting back to those same kind of things," Stammen said. "It makes me realize that my stuff is similar to what it was when I as with the Nats."

But going out and pitching for three innings in a row multiple times this season tested his endurance. Stammen came out of it feeling strong. That was a mental hurdle that concerned him after the arm issue of 2015 lingered through 2016.

"I think the hardest part about coming back from the injury was believing in myself that I was as good as I was before," Stammen said. "I think the last couple of weeks have kind of validated that."

Stammen got married recently as well. Now he has to act all mature and serious around his teammates.

"Got married, yes. I'm one of the old guys on the team," Stammen said. "Went from young guy to old guy really fast."

So do these young bucks in the bullpen ask his pitching advice now?

"A little bit. They're getting to know me first," Stammen said. "But we've got a really tight bullpen. We get along really well. We've got some talented guys too. Good bullpen too. A bullpen that hangs out together and helps each other out so, hopefully, that's what's going on."

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