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Craig Stammen posted an 0.87 ERA in seven big-league appearances last season.
Yep, look it up. On April 8, 2010, Stammen started the Nationals' third game of the season, behind John Lannan and Jason Marquis. He went on to start 19 games that year (third-most on the club behind Livan Hernandez and Lannan) duplicating the number of times he took the mound as a rookie in 2009.
At times, Stammen has been quite effective; he's allowed three earned runs or fewer in 23 of 38 career starts. At times, he's been quite hittable; he failed to go more than five innings in 13 of those 38 starts.
Stammen's inconsistencies, coupled with the arrivals of several starters with loftier pedigrees, forced him to the bullpen last season. But he responded with perhaps his best (and most consistent) performance to date: In seven relief appearances for the Nationals, he posted a sparkling 0.87 ERA.
Which should at least put the 27-year-old right-hander in an advantageous position this spring, given a strong shot to crack the club's Opening Day bullpen.
Except the Nationals are overstocked with qualified relievers, leaving Stammen as something of an odd man out. In all likelihood, he'll open the season as a starter at Class AAA Syracuse. But in all likelihood, the Nationals will need him to pitch out of the bullpen in the big leagues at some point in 2012.
The whole situation leaves Stammen with somewhat mixed feelings. On one hand, he's happy the organization has improved so much since he debuted during a brutal, 103-loss season in 2009. On the other hand, he wishes he was being given more of an opportunity to help this suddenly competitive-looking club.
"I'm a competitive person," he said this morning. "I always want to show them what I can do. But I think the players we've gotten have proven they can pitch in the big leagues. And I don't think I've necessarily been able to do that, or been given the chance to do that. So I can't really complain or feel like I'm slighted or anything. All I can do is be happy with the opportunity I get and take advantage of it."
What opportunity will Stammen get this spring to prove his worth? Well, it's hard to know for sure. He's one of 10 starting pitchers in camp who need to be stretched out over the next month, but he's way down the depth chart and thus will be used exclusively out of the bullpen.
For now, Stammen is slated to follow John Lannan Monday night against the Mets in Port St. Lucie, probably getting two or three innings of work. After that, it's anybody's guess.
"I'm pretty sure they have a plan," he said. "They just haven't told us."
Is that a difficult spot to be in, not knowing whether you need to prepare to be a starter or reliever, or whether you're likely to open the year in the big leagues or in Syracuse?
"Nah, not really," he said. "I can't control how many innings they let me pitch. What I can control is how well I do in those innings. I mean, I'm used to it. I've done this the last couple of spring trainings, where I didn't know if I was going to be a starter or in the bullpen. Last year, I was a bullpen guy the whole spring training. And then with 10 days left, I was a starter going back to Triple-A, and I had to build up my arm to be able to pitch five innings in 10 days. It is what it is."
That about best sums up Stammen's personality. A 12th-round pick in the 2005 draft out of the University of Dayton, he's a bit of an overachiever. He came out of nowhere in 2009 to crack the Nationals' rotation following a slew of injuries, and he's always seemed to have a healthy perspective on his situation.
That positive attitude and perspective probably makes Stammen even more valuable to the organization. Others in his situation might grumble about their uncertain role or complain about being the guy on the staff most likely to spend his summer bouncing back and forth between the majors and minors.
Stammen, though, seems to appreciate the spot he's in. And he's more than willing to do whatever the Nationals want, as long as it includes another opportunity to make his mark on the game's biggest stage.
"I think I have a good understanding of the privilege it is to be a Major League Baseball player," he said. "Not necessarily that I'm just happy to be here and I'm satisfied with just being on the team. Because I want to do well and I want to win a World Series for this team.
"But I think you have to have a level of humility to fully appreciate what's going on here, so years from now you can fully appreciate how much work you put in and how well you did and how much effort it takes to play at this level."