- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 21, 2009

Daniel Cabrera’s continued ineffectiveness, combined with Craig Stammen’s continued progress, led the Washington Nationals to a simple conclusion. A rotation change needed to be made.

So Stammen, a 25-year-old right-hander, will make his big league debut Thursday against the Pittsburgh Pirates, while Cabrera moves to Washington’s bullpen to try to get himself back in form.

After watching Cabrera slog his way through eight ragged starts, going 0-5 with a 5.95 ERA, the Nationals decided to remove him from the rotation equation and get him into the bullpen, where he can work out some of his mechanical glitches.

“We hope to relax him over there so he can continue to work on what [pitching coach Randy St. Claire] is working with him [on] and earn his way back to the rotation,” manager Manny Acta said.

Cabrera, who signed a one-year, $2.6 million deal with Washington in December, said he understood the club’s decision and was curious to find out how he responds to the new role.

“It doesn’t feel comfortable to me because I’ve never been there,” the 27-year-old said. “But I’m an employee for this team. I work here. And whatever they ask me to do, I’ve got to do it.”

Stammen, the organization’s 12th-round pick in the 2005 draft, becomes the latest Nationals pitching prospect to work his way into the major league rotation. He’ll join John Lannan (24), Ross Detwiler (23), Jordan Zimmermann (22) and Shairon Martis (22) in a starting five that includes no one with more than two full seasons of big league experience.

Stammen wasn’t much on Washington’s radar until last season, when he pitched at three different levels of the club’s farm system. He made a strong impression this spring, refining a two-seam fastball that has produced dramatic results at Class AAA Syracuse (a 4-2 record and 1.80 ERA).

“He’s earned it,” acting general manager Mike Rizzo said. “He’s pitched outstanding.”

To make room for Stammen, the Nationals optioned reliever Garrett Mock to Syracuse.

Maxwell gets another shot

When Justin Maxwell made his major league debut in September 2007, he admittedly had some nerves racing through his body. When the young outfielder returned last month for his second stint, he felt a little more confident about his chances.

Now that Maxwell is back for a third time with the Nationals, everything feels familiar.

“It’s definitely more comfortable the second go-around,” he said. “Even more the third.”

Promoted from Syracuse after Elijah Dukes went on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring, Maxwell should get an extended look in center field over at least the next two weeks. The organization is trying to decide whether the 25-year-old (who missed considerable time in 2006 and 2008 with injuries) is close to ready for full-time duty on a major league roster.

Opinion within the front office and coaching staff is somewhat split; many officials believe Maxwell still needs more at-bats in the minors. All agree, though, that the Olney native and former Maryland star has the potential to become an impact player at some point.

“We do love his tools,” Acta said. “We like his makeup. We would love for him to take the next step and be a part of the future here.”

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