Monday, April 19, 2010

Stammen's inner Livan

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Craig Stammen churned out eight strong innings to lead the Nats to victory.
Craig Stammen says his right arm has never felt this good. It certainly didn't feel this good last year when he tried to pitch with bone chips in his elbow that didn't allow him to throw a curveball without wincing pain.

But perhaps Stammen actually feels too good. Able to throw free and easy for the first time as a big leaguer, he's been tempted at times to try to cut loose and overpower opposing hitters.

Just one problem: Stammen is not a power pitcher. Never has been. Never will be. He actually loses effectiveness when trying to throw too hard, something he did five nights ago in Philadelphia during a wretched, 1 1/3-inning start against the Phillies.

So when he returned to the mound tonight against the Rockies, the 26-year-old made a conscious effort to ease off the gas pedal a bit. Don't try to throw 94 mph when 90 is good enough.

"When you're young, you learn real quick that 100 percent isn't always the best," he said. "I kind of got into a mode where my arm was feeling so good, I was letting 'er fly. And that felt good. But I wasn't getting any results."

Stammen got the results he and the Nationals wanted tonight. With eight superb innings of two-run ball, he rediscovered his top form and led Washington to a thoroughly satisfying 5-2 victory over Colorado.

His goal on the mound tonight? Be more like Livan Hernandez.

Seriously.

"Watching Livo do it at like 85 percent really puts you back a little bit," he said. "You try to emulate that as best you can."

Stammen has taken quite a liking to Hernandez since the latter rejoined the club last fall. The two played golf during spring training, and in the course of that round, the young right-hander understood why the sage veteran has been so successful in the majors despite his lack of velocity.

Hernandez is as good a golfer as there is in baseball, and he has the same approach on the tee as he does on the mound.

"How I play golf is how I pitch," Livo told Stammen. "Just nice and easy, let it fly down the middle. If I overswing, I don't hit the ball straight. Same as pitching."

The two right-handers spoke this week about that philosophy, and Stammen made a point to heed Hernandez's advice, figuring there are enough similarities between the two to make it work.

"I don't throw as hard as him, but it's similar styles," said Hernandez, who tossed a four-hit shutout Saturday. "So I give him some advice."

Whatever was said, it worked. Stammen retired the first six Rockies he faced tonight and never looked back. By the time he departed following the eighth, he had allowed only two runs on five hits, walking one and striking out five.

In the process, Stammen extended a trend that has come to define the 2010 Nationals. When their starting pitcher goes at least five innings, they're now 7-0. When the starter fails to go five, they're 0-6.

"It's just a whole different ballgame -- to manage, to watch -- when your starter's out there relatively deep in the ballgame," Jim Riggleman said.

This Nats club is far from perfect. It's got flaws. But it's also got enough offense, a good enough bullpen and improved enough defense to compete with anyone ... as long as it gets decent work from its rotation.

This club, which now owns a 7-6 record, also has something its predecessors did not: A good vibe inside the clubhouse.

"The thing here now that I see different is chemistry," said Willie Harris, whose three-run homer in second inning carried the lineup tonight. "It's just a different feeling. Even [yesterday] when we were down 10 runs, we felt like we could get back in the game, and we did. If you believe in your teammates and yourself, you never know what can happen."

In a strange way, yesterday's 11-7 loss to the Brewers actually proved valuable for the Nationals. Jason Marquis may have put his teammates in a 10-0 hole after one inning, but the manner in which the rest of the club battled back to make it a competitive game turned what should have been a disastrous afternoon at the park into a positive development that carried over into the next series.

"I think it meant a lot to us," Harris said. "We came out here tonight with some momentum. Yesterday, we ended the game with some momentum."

That momentum translated into a complete victory tonight, a stellar pitching performance from a guy who fed off his teammate's performance two days earlier and the continuation of a solid opening stanza to the season for a club that seems determined to keep this run going.

38 comments:

meixler said...

For those who haven't seen the New Yorker article in which Mr. Zuckerman plays a prominent role (and thanks to someone else in the previous game thread to tipping me off that it could be floating out there in cyber space):

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/04/12/100412fa_fact_mcgrath?currentPage=all

Anonymous said...

great article in the NYer...hope it seriously spikes your donations!

Gus said...

Mark, any update on Wang, Detwiler and JZ? Damn, this team might actually be ok sooner than we thought. Get Dunn swinging the bat, and some sort of offense from RF (MENCH is so hot right now), and who knows, we might beat the Mets.

natsfan1a said...

Loved the piece, thanks. You go, Livo, and nice work, Stammen!

Thanks to meixler for the link to the New Yorker story. Congrats on the publicity, Mark. I would, however, opine to Mr. MrGrath that Mrs. Z. does a fine job with photos of game action. I believe that the lady has her head in the game, thank you very much. :-)

Anonymous said...

all this talk about a good vibe, good chemistry in the clubhouse...this is why Dukes is sitting at home.

K.D. said...

Great Post.

Janner33 said...

Does anyone know what was going on in I think the end of the 4th or 5th inning when Pudge seemed to be pretending that the ball got by him? Then he just fired it to first. Was busy doing something at the time, had the TV on mute, and couldn't hear what the commentators were saying!

natsfan1a said...

Oh, and my fave part of the New Yorker piece was probably JR's address to the media. :-)

Janner33, I believe that Pudge didn't realize the ball was in his glove the whole time. Bob also referenced the time that Zimm lost the baseball in his jersey (which I'd been telling my husband about just moments before).

Anonymous said...

Is anyone else thinking we should flip Dunn and Zimmerman in the order?

Kyle said...

I have read your blog everyday since that article was published, very good publicity.

Ed said...

Livo was the first guy to get to Stammen after the last out for a well deserved high five. Nice to see that kind of thing.

Hendo said...

Well done, Mr. Zuckerman.

(And a Memo to Other Writers Some of Whom May Now Be Working the Asia Desk for a Major Washington Newspaper: If you don't want your food-critic ambitions to be splashed across the pages of the New Yorker, keep them to yourself.)

Janner33 said...

@natsfan1a - Thanks for the explanation. And here i was thinking Pudge the wily vet had a trick up his sleeve :)

natsfan1a said...

I noticed that, too, Ed. Looked like Livo said something to him then as well.

natsfan1a said...

Good one, Janner. "Watch me pull a rabbit out of this hat."

Andrew said...

Mark Zuckerman said...In the process, Stammen extended a trend that has come to define the 2010 Nationals. When their starting pitcher goes at least five innings, they're now 7-0. When the starter fails to go five, they're 0-6.
________________________________

Thanks for pointing stat out.

I also like the points by Gus above. I just can't imagine what this offense can be when Adam Bomb gets going!

Doc said...

Do you think that Livo has time to also be the pitching coach????

Steve M. said...

Gus said...
Mark, any update on Wang, Detwiler and JZ?

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

Yes, we certainly need an update on these 3. Where are they all at physically and geographically also. Thanks much!

Anonymous said...

great stuff...

quick question: are there "nats insider" t-shirts? might be a good way to support the site.

sorry if this has already been proposed.

Mark Zuckerman said...

OK, the much-anticipated injury updates...

Wang has been throwing off a mound in Viera. Next step is throwing live BP. Then he'll go on a rehab assignment. Target date to return is early-to-mid-June.

Detwiler is on a similar timeframe. His rehab assignment will come sometime in mid-to-late May.

Zimmermann has a longer way to go, but that's been expected all along. The Nats are still targeting August-September for his return from Tommy John surgery.

It should be pointed out once again that all three players (along with Jesus Flores) are on the 60-day DL. So they are ineligible to return before June 3. Not that it appears any of them will be ready prior to that.

Mark Zuckerman said...

Anon: The T-shirt idea has been brought up by my marketing staff. Would people actually be interested in purchasing such an item?

Anonymous said...

***crickets sound***

Anonymous said...

i would buy one either way, but my thought is that if you had a good slogan you would see pretty good sales.

i propose a slogan contest: winner gets a free t-shirt.

am i overthinking this?

natsfan1a said...

I don't know that I'd be likely to wear one (I tend to stick with Nats wear for games). I'd be more likely to use a coffee mug or some such. But that would only advertise the site to my husband and house guests, I suppose. I do like the slogan contest idea.

In other news, I found the Livo-Elvis scoop on Debbi Taylor's MASN blog (see below). I *thought* that might be the case. I love Livo, but he doesn't have the smallest head around. :-)

"On Friday, Josh Willingham sported the silver Elvis hairdo, but on Sunday, Livan Hernandez had the wig hanging in his locker because he told me it didn't fit!"

Sunderland said...

Marketing staff?
You mean Mrs. Z I presume.

T-shirt with slogan?
Not likely.
Then again, over a 2 week period in 1978, there were about 100,000 "It ain't over till the fat lady sings" t-shirts sold.

Ah, Les Boulez.

Don't let me discourage you.
Get a logo / slogan / whatever, log in to cafepress.com and you can set up you online shop with coffee mugs, boxer shorts, coozies, anything you want.

NatsNut said...

The slogan thing was done to death over at Nationals Journal back in the day (2007?), with some pretty hilarious slogans but no T-shirts.

Yes, I'd buy a t-shirt if it was cool looking. Put the year on it and you can change the slogan every year.

Wigi said...

The tee shirt should say "Nats Insider" but printed on the insise od the shirt, so you'd wear it inside-out.

Wigi said...

Let's try again...

The tee shirt should say "Nats Insider" but printed on the inside of the shirt, so you'd wear it inside-out.

Farid said...

Living in Idaho, I got to watch the Nationals on TV instead of the computer on the Rockies baseball network.

They were surprised at how good Stammen pitched considering his ERA.

I wasn't. I recall several stories over the winter that suggested that Stammen (even with his surgery)was highly thought of and several teams inquired about trading for him.

It is still amazing that the Nationals selected Stammen and Lannan back-to-back in 2005 (I think it was the 11th and 12th rounds).

J.D. Martin pitched very well in Syracuse last night too -- I still think he deserves to be that rotation somewhere.

Kevin Rusch, Section406 said...

How about a t-shirt with two Asian groundskeepers saying "they're still sh*tty."

And no, I'm not a racist. Watch _major league_.

Aeoliano said...

Silver Elvis wig t-shirt.

Aeoliano said...

Both JD Martin and Luis Atilano have been pitching well in the rotation in Syracuse. The whole staff (to a much lesser extent Matt Chico at this point) in Harrisburg look like they are all ready to make the next move. Its not just Strasburg at this point.

Keithcu said...

First post: I want my Nats Insider t-shirt! Just keep it simple - no slogans necessary.

Tom said...

When is the Elvis Wig night give away scheduled this year?

Farid said...

Just reported that the president of the Colorado Rockies was found dead in a Salt Lake City hotel room.

I wonder how that will effect the Rockies tonight.

cadeck13 said...

I would absolutely buy a "Nats Insider" t-shirt. This is my "go to" site every day (I really should say many, many times a day but the boss could be reading ;)) Now I just have to figure out how to be able to post from my Blackberry 'cuz I use that at night for the in-game threads - anybody out there know?

natsone_va said...

I would love a Nats Insider T-shirt. Also, I love that article on NY'er. I was at that 2nd Strasburg start down in Viera also so I can relate to so many topics on that article. I love NY'er writing, especially baseball writing. Go Mark!! Go Nats!!

Tcostant said...

Nationals are making piles of money:

http://www.forbes.com/lists/2010/33/baseball-valuations-10_The-Business-Of-Baseball_Income.html

Third overall in net income.

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