With the 354th overall pick in the 2005 MLB Amateur Draft, the Washington Nationals selected 21-year-old pitcher Craig Stammen from the University of Dayton. While no one ever expected Stammen to ever contribute to the major league club, he made it his mission to capitalize on his opportunities. From 2005 to 2008, Stammen was sent through almost every minor league level playing 100 games and starting 80 of them. Although he wasn’t the best starter with around a mid-four ERA combined, he ended the 2008 season in class AAA Columbus with a disappointing 7.33 ERA in nine games.
Despite those stats, he began his 2009 season with the Nationals’ new class AAA team in Syracuse, New York. Defying all his past stats, he started seven games with four wins and two losses accumulating a magnificent 1.80 ERA. Luckily, his best came when the Nationals were in the middle of their worst season in Nationals history. On May 20th he was called up to try to relieve some of the starting rotation’s pain, but he failed to do so with 5.11 ERA in 19 starts. His rookie season was eventually cut short though by a bone spur in his right elbow.
In 2010, after a decent spring training, manager Jim Riggleman named Stammen the third starter behind Livan Hernandez and John Lannan. Following another unacceptable start though with a 5.43 ERA in 12 starts where batters were hitting .302 against, Stammen was sent down to the minors once again in early June. In the minors he flourished once again and soon after he was called back up to the starting rotation.
Even though he pitched the best he had ever in his career with a 4.42 ERA in seven starts, he was moved to the bullpen to make room for starters coming back from injuries. He ended the season in his typical form though with only one hold in 16 games and a 5.48 ERA with a .309 batting average against. This led to his inevitable return to AAA Syracuse in 2011.
When Doug Slaten went to the disabled list early in the season the bullpen’s depth was tested and miraculously Stammen was brought back to the majors for only two innings before being sent back. Later when the roster was expanded, the Nationals gave Stammen his sixth chance. This time was different than the rest and finally Stammen showed the greatness he was able to achieve in AAA. In five games and 8.1 innings scoreless innings of long relief, he gave up one hit while striking out 12, erasing criticism for a short amount of time.
This spring training, Stammen continued where he left off. With some help from Ross Detwiler, he was granted an amazing seventh chance as a long reliever. This past Friday he made his first appearance after an excited Gio Gonzalez struggled through his debut. In 2.1 innings he gave up just one hit and zero runs keeping the Nationals in the game to eventually make a comeback. As a result along, with a lack of long relievers, fans can be sure to expect more of Stammen in the near future.
Stammen exceeded expectations but not in a good way by major league standards. Although he was opportunistic, he was also very lucky that he was developing when he was. If he wasn’t flourishing by his standards when the club was at its worst, he definitely would not have been given a chance with his less than average minor league stats. To be given seven chances is a miracle by major league standards, and now at a time when the Nationals are at their best, Stammen must remain consistent in the only position where the club needs help. If he ever regresses to his former state, his road back to the majors will be close to impossible.