Stammen struggling without consistent innings

By Daniel Popper

WASHINGTON – Nationals reliever Craig Stammen has taken the mound just twice since July 22. In those two outings, he’s combined to allow five earned runs on 11 hits — all of them singles — to balloon his ERA above 4.00 for the first time since May.

“I’m a sinkerball pitcher. I pitch to contact,” said Stammen, who surrendered two runs on six hits in the Nationals’ 7-3 loss to the Orioles Monday night. “Sometimes, they hit them where the fielders aren’t.”

Stammen said there are small adjustments he can make to improve his command. But most importantly, he has to trust in his stuff.

“I’m not missing by a ton, I’m not walking guys, but I’m leaving the ball a little bit more over the plate than I normally do,” Stammen said.

The main reason why Stammen has seen so few innings over the past several weeks revolves around the Nationals’ stout starting pitching. In 11 games from July 23 through Sunday, Washington starters failed to go at least seven innings just twice.

In short, Stammen hasn’t had opportunities to pitch with setup man Tyler Clippard and closer Rafael Soriano firmly cemented in their roles. And often times, that lack of innings can throw a reliever — and an entire bullpen — out of whack.

“For me, that’s usually not a good sign,” Stammen said. “But our starters have done really well, so that means less innings for the bullpen. And usually, that’s when the bullpen struggles a little bit: when they’re not pitching a lot.”

Even so, Stammen understands that strong starting pitching is the key to winning games. And ultimately, that’s the goal.

“It’s more fun to win than pitch more,” he said.

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