"[Stammen] was impressive. I think he has a chance to be around for a while. He's good." —Adam LaRoche, May 21, 2009.
THE RESULT: Making his major league debut, 25-year old rookie Craig Stammen worked quickly, efficiently and successfully into the seventh inning. Despite giving up three runs in the seventh and trailing 4-3, as he was lifted by manager Manny Acta he received a standing ovation from the 17,816 in attendance.
His teammates rallied to his cause, coming back in the eighth inning to salvage the finale of the four-game series, 5-4.
Stammen, recalled yesterday to replace Daniel Cabrera in the starting rotation, was the antithesis of the pitcher he replaced. He averaged around 11.3 pitches per inning up to the seventh. He walked just one batter in his six and one-third innings, and that wasn't until his last inning of work.
He pounded the strike zone with a 92 MPH sinking fastball and induced 11 ground ball outs, opposed to just five fly ball outs.
He even mixed in three swing-and-miss strikeouts.
Stammen retired the first 12 batters he faced. He didn't allow a base runner until Adam LaRoche led of fthe fifth with a double down the right field line. LaRoche later scored on two ground ball outs.
In the seventh inning, it looked like the rookie just ran out of gas a little. He got Freddie Sanchez to hit a grounder to short for the first out, but then walked Nate McLouth. LaRoche then took him deep when he left a ball up in the strike zone. Brandon Moss followed with a double and Andy LaRoche singled Moss home.
That's when Acta went to pull his rookie, one of four now in the starting rotation.
Julian Tavarez entered and did his job, going one and two-thirds innings scoreless, allowing just one walk and no hits.
Washington got Stammen off the hook in eighth. Cristian Guzman hit a one-out single to left, took second on a Nick Johnson single to center, and scored on a Ryan Zimmerman line drive single to right.
Adam Dunn followed with the Nats' fourth consecutive single plating Johnson, and the Nats took the lead into the ninth, as they have several times this season only to be rewarded with disappointment.
But that would not be the case on this night. Joel Hanrahan entered and looked like a different pitcher. He faced four batters and allowed one baserunner--a single to Moss on a slider he hung in the middle of the plate.
At that point, Hanrahan put the slider in his back pocket and blew away Ramon Vazquez and pinch-hitter Delwyn Young on nothing but 96 and 97 MPH fastballs.
THE TAKEAWAY: Despite losing three-of-four to the Pirates, the Nats have to think things are looking up.
The insertion of Stammen (25) and Detwiler (23) to a rotation already featuring youngsters John Lannan (24), Shairon Martis (22) and Jordan Zimmermann (23 tomorrow) is encouraging, especially since it seems that all are ready to start living up to the promise we've heard so much about.
And maybe Hanrahan finally understands that it's hard to hit a 96 MPH fastball, even for major league players.
Sandy Koufax said, "I became a good pitcher when I stopped trying to make them miss the ball and started trying to make them hit it."
THE GOOD: In the bottom of the eighth inning, as the Nats were rallying to take the lead, a spontaneous, unprompted "Let's Go Nats" cheer erupted in the upper deck and spread.
THE BAD: Anderson Hernandez left the game after grounding out in the bottom of the fourth inning. According to team trainers, he sprained his right pinky finger. According to The Times' Chatter, Anderson actually dislocated a joint and had to pull the finger back into place. Ouch.
THE UGLY: There was nothing really ugly last night. It was a perfect early summer night weather-wise, the bullpen didn't implode, every starter but Hernandez had a hit. The Nats even went a game without an error!
NEXT GAME: Tonight, the start of a three-game series with our neighbors to the north, the Baltimore Orioles. Jordan Zimmermann (2-1, 6.35) takes the hill against Rich Hill (1-0, 3.18), who is fresh off the disabled list, trying to resurrect a once-promising career.
NOTES: Ryan Zimmerman's RBI single extended his consecutive on-base streak to 38 games.