- The Washington Times - Monday, February 23, 2015

VIERA, Fla. — Over the past few years, Craig Stammen has become incredibly good in an indispensable but largely overlooked role: innings-eater.

Stammen knows this is his job, and he fills it better than just about anybody in baseball. Over the past three years, he has a 1.76 ERA in outings of two innings or more. His success is one of a kind. And that’s exactly the problem.

Stammen has done a unique role so well that the Nationals haven’t felt forced to move him into a different one. However, that could soon change. With Tanner Roark’s expected move to the bullpen, Stammen could be in line for more high-leverage innings later in the game, giving Roark an opportunity to serve as a long reliever. That would presumably make it easier for Roark to shift back into the starting rotation, if needed.

All that, of course, is merely conjecture this early in spring training. Stammen doesn’t yet know his own role for 2015.

“I haven’t been told anything, but that’s why you work hard every day,” Stammen said late last week. “That’s what I’ve been trying, every time I’ve pitched the last three seasons, trying to prove that I can pitch in more important roles. Just try to go out and do my job as best I can.”

Manager Matt Williams has said it’s important for each man in the bullpen to have and understand a specific role, adding that those roles will be clarified as spring goes on.

Having any sort of concrete role would be a new but welcome experience for Stammen. Over the past three years, he’s done a bit of everything.

“I’ve just been whatever,” he said.

Stammen would like to pitch later in the game, but he knows those decisions are out of his control. He also has not lost sight of the most important goal: winning. He said he’ll do whatever is asked of him.

Stammen also offered an awesome quote about his style of offseason workouts. “I just focus on the fundamentals of trying to be as good as I can at the ordinary stuff,” he said. “And then if I can be as consistent as I can with that, then it all turns out pretty good in the end.”

Breakfast links

— From today’s paper: Ian Desmond isn’t worrying about his future, but rather focusing on enjoying the ride.

Ryan Zimmerman took grounders at first base Monday morning, beginning the process of switching to the new position.

Taylor Jordan reflects on his injury-plagued 2014 season, and looks ahead to this year.

Workout observations

— On Sunday, Williams singled out Matt Grace as someone he was interested in seeing for the first time. So on Monday, I watched the lefty a little more carefully. Williams said his stuff has a lot of movement, and he wasn’t kidding. Grace throws something that looked to me like a slurve, swooping from left to right. An absolutely nasty break. I overheard one coach call it “a right-handed slider.” Jerry Blevins and Matt Thornton are pretty safe bets to fill that situational left-hander role out of the bullpen, but with movement like that, Grace is a talent to watch, if nothing else.

— This information is basically irrelevant, but I’m going to share it anyways: Drew Storen is a really good bunter. Like, strangely good. He’s a switch-hitter (another interesting nugget) but was practicing bunts from the left side Monday. Coaches put two white buckets along either base line as targets. Storen regularly hit the bucket, or came close. On one bunt, he even put backspin on the ball. It dropped just fair along the first-base line and rolled back toward him. A thing of beauty. Of course, he only has two professional at-bats (both in 2010) and probably won’t ever step into the batter’s box this season. But oh well.

— There was an entertaining post-workout scene featuring Max Scherzer and a bunch of autograph-seeking fans. Scherzer signed for a while, mostly for children, before asking if there were any more kids in the crowd. The responses were pretty funny. “We’re all big kids!” one middle-aged woman yelled. “I’m 12!” said another. Then there was that guy who sweared his son couldn’t make it to the workout, but he was going to give the autographed baseball to him. Uh huh. Sure.

Worth watching

Bryce Harper. The outfielder was at the Daytona 500 over the weekend and apparently stopped by Space Coast Stadium on Monday, though I didn’t see him. All players are due to report to Viera today, so there may be a better chance he’ll spend some time in the clubhouse getting acclimated. I’ve seen the Instagram videos of Harper blasting homers in BP and pulling 550 pounds across a room, but I’ve also heard from others that he’s made an effort to slim down. I’m interested to see if that’s the case and hear his take.

Quote of the day

Williams on Ian Desmond: “He has the ability to do whatever he wants to do on a baseball field. And that’s unique. He runs well, he’s got power, he can hit for average, he does all those things well from an offensive standpoint. So it’s just about him having a good approach and taking what’s given to him, and the home runs will come. The power numbers will come. The interesting thing about Ian is he’s got just as much power to right-center as he does to his pull side. He and Anthony [Rendon] are really alike in that regard.”

• Tom Schad can be reached at tschad@washingtontimes.com.

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