- - Wednesday, May 9, 2018

No one had ever fanned 15 batters while pitching just 6.1 innings before Max Scherzer made history on Sunday at Nationals Park.

But the Nationals ace right-hander was pulled after 111 pitches against the Phillies by Dave Martinez, the first-year manager.

That conservative approach during the tenure of general manager Mike Rizzo is no surprise to Craig Stammen, a former pitcher for the Nationals. He was a reliever with the Nationals in the 2012 playoffs when ace Stephen Strasburg was shut down by Rizzo after he had gone through Tommy John surgery.

“You have to go out and compete and win,” said Stammen, 34, a member of the Nationals’ bullpen from 2009 to 2015. “The coaches are trying to do the best they can to win games and also take care of the players. It is not the easiest thing (to do both). I have no regrets. They took care of me.”

Stammen is now a key reliever for the San Diego Padres, who hosts the red-hot Nationals on Wednesday in the finale of a three-game series at Petco Park.

The Nationals’ trip to the west coast has allowed Stammen to catch up with some of his former teammates, including pitchers Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark.

Gonzalez is slated to start Wednesday night against the Padres, with Roark on track to start Thursday in the first of four games in Arizona against the first-place Diamondbacks.

“It is always great to see familiar faces. The guy I like to follow the most is Tanner,” Stammen said.

“They have been playing good,” Stammen added. “They are favored to win their division. We are not.”

Stammen, a strong Catholic who went to the University of Dayton, has faced personal challenges and joys since he left the Nationals.

He grew up in rural Ohio and was a three-sport star at Versailles High.

“We were fortunate enough to land him,” said former Dayton coach Tony Vittorio. “He was always very humble. He is a farm boy; he knew how to work hard. He baled hay. His father owned a hardware store and his mother was an educator. He wasn’t very hard to coach because he had those core values.”

Those values have aided him the last few years, after he went on the disabled list in April 2015 with right forearm soreness and did not return to the active roster with the Nationals.

After that season, he became a free agent and signed with Cleveland, and he pitched in the minor leagues for the Indians in 2016 after enduring flexor tendon surgery.

Stammen signed a two-year contract with the Padres and returned to the majors last season by pitching in 60 games out of the bullpen with a 3.14 ERA. He had a 2.50 ERA in his first 15 outings this year.

“It was not easy. A lot of guys have gone through it,” Stammen said of his surgery. “It was a challenge. I came out of it a better man, physically, mentally and spiritually. It was satisfying when I was able to make it back to the major leagues. I learned a lot from it. I am a little wiser.”

Along the way, he married the former Audrey Ludwig, a former assistant volleyball coach at the University of Maryland and Dayton. She made a hole-in-one in golf on their honeymoon while Stammen was taping it, and the video went viral.

Last fall, she was an assistant coach at Versailles High and they won a state volleyball title in Ohio, where the couple lives in the winter. She is now a full-time mother after the couple had a son, Chase, in late March. The family lives a few minutes from Petco Park, and Stammen loves the great weather in San Diego.

“They both have old-school core values. They both have stayed humble,” said Vittorio, who introduced Stammen to his wife.

The right-hander, as a young pitcher, said he got good advice from former Nationals pitchers such as Livan Hernandez and Jason Marquis. Now Stammen is an elder statesman for the Padres.

“We’ve asked a lot of him already early in the season,” San Diego manager Andy Green told reporters last month.

Stammen was a starter in his minor league career and broke into the Nationals rotation in 2009, a year that the club lost 103 games. But the club progressed and won its first division title three seasons later.

“When you are in it, you try to survive it,” he said. “Looking back it is kind of similar to the situation I am in here with the Padres. It shows if you put in work and show up every day and try to get better there is fruit at the end of the tunnel. I was part of the solution (with the Nationals), hopefully.”

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