I know Washington Nationals fans are choking on silver linings these days — glimpses of hope overshadowed by their team’s woeful record — but here’s another silver lining from Monday night’s 1-0 loss to the Colorado Rockies.
Craig Stammen was better the second and third time Rockies hitters faced him than the first time. That is an encouraging development.
Stammen, 25, has been a surprise, found money, a 12th round pick in the 2005 draft who was pitching, for the most part, like a 12th round pick until last season; between stints from Class A to Class AAA, he posted a 3.52 ERA in 150 2/3 innings pitched. He started this year at Class AAA Syracuse, going 4-2 with a 1.80 ERA.
Stammen had been impressive early on in his first few starts for the Nationals with his composure and command, but as games wore on and batters got a second and third look at him, he was running into trouble.
That’s not an unusual issue for a rookie pitcher, but the question is then, is the problem with the pitcher’s ability to maintain consistency and concentration over the course of seven innings or so, or is the problem he is throwing his best stuff and batters are simply getting a handle on it the second and third time they see him?
Based on his performance Monday night against the Rockies, there is reason to believe it may be the former — a matter of gaining major league maturity — than the latter.
As Washington Times baseball writer Ben Goessling reported, Stammen, after giving up two hits and a walk in the first inning for the lone run of the game, settled down to allow just three more hits over seven innings. His sinking fastball got sharper as the game wore on, leading to nine outs on ground balls — an impressive display in a launching pad like Coors Field.
Even though he had gotten lit up for six runs in 5 1/3 innings pitched in a 6-4 loss to the Boston Red Sox two weeks ago, the Red Sox scouts had rated Stammen above average in a number of categories going into the series. And he is a smart kid — an Academic All Ohio pick in high school in 2002 and an Atlantic Ten Conference Academic All-Conference Pick at Dayton — so he has the brains to adjust and learn.
He has a long way to go to prove himself as a major league starter. It takes about 50 starts to declare that a pitcher has what it takes to be a quality major league starter. But he has shown enough to think that the found money may not be counterfeit.
I will be on The Sports Reporters on ESPN 980 AM Washington on Wednesday, July 8, from 4 to 7 p.m.
To learn more about Thom Loverro, go to www.thomloverro.com