Craig Stammen's best pitching performance of the season still wasn't good enough to save his job.
The Nationals optioned Stammen to Class AAA Syracuse following today's 5-4, 10-inning loss to the Reds, a move that clears space for Stephen Strasburg to be added in time for Tuesday's game against the Pirates.
Stammen, who entered the afternoon with a 5.88 ERA and every reason to believe his job security was low, nonetheless went out and held Cincinnati to one run over 6 2/3 innings. More impressively, the right-hander threw only 66 pitches before getting pulled by manager Jim Riggleman with two outs in the seventh and the Nats clinging to a 2-1 lead.
"It certainly was not a pitch count issue," Riggleman said. "I just felt like [Orlando] Cabrera, he had centered the ball a couple of times on Craig and I didn't want him to get another look at Craig. I knew I had a very fresh bullpen today. ... We had them all ready. I thought Craig did a great job."
In the end, it really didn't matter how Stammen pitched today. His fate was already sealed. The only question, Riggleman said, was whether Stammen (or any other starter in consideration to lose his spot) would be moved to the bullpen instead. Fellow right-handers J.D. Martin (0-1, 2.31 ERA in two starts) and Luis Atilano (5-2, 4.24 ERA in nine starts) were also candidates for demotion.
"No matter who I'm saying it about, it would be the same thing: It's a painful decision," Riggleman said. "It's a tough call. No matter who it was, that person could say: 'I don't care what the reasons are, I'm disappointed I'm going down.' We could pick apart reasons, but there's reasons it wouldn't be Craig, too."
Stammen, who made the Opening Day rotation after a strong spring, was upset but not surprised at the move.
"I mean, the proof is in the pudding," he said. "I was one of the guys who was in line for that. I haven't been very consistent. That's the way it is."
After making 19 starts as a rookie last season with bone chips in his elbow, Stammen believes he has better "stuff" now than ever before. He also believes he has made some strides in the last week thanks to some work with pitching coach Steve McCatty.
"My stuff's definitely gotten better this year," he said. "I haven't been able to be as consistent with it. I haven't been able to harness it as much as I'd like."