Bill Ladson of MLB.Com tweeted today that right-handed starter Craig Stammen could work out of the bullpen when he returns to the big league club later in the summer. The 26-year-old was the odd man out several weeks ago when the Washington Nationals elected to assign him to AAA-Syracuse in order to bring up 21-year-old phenom Stephen Strasburg.
Stammen struggled to be effective this season before being demoted in June. In 12 starts he posted a 1-2 record with a 5.43 ERA and only struck out 31 batters in 66.1 innings pitched. Many were hoping that the right-hander would take the next step in 2010 after posting a 5.11 ERA in 19 starts last season.
In two starts with Syracuse since his demotion, Stammen has gone 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA and seven strikeouts in 13.1 innings. His most recent start resulted in a compete-game shutout two-hitter against the Gwinnett Braves.
Stammen has not pitched out of the bullpen since the first half of 2008 playing in high A-ball where he pitched six games out of the pen earning one save.
Despite Stammen's high ERA, a closer look at his numbers show that he wasn't preforming quite that poorly. His .316 BABIP was well above his career .295 average despite an improved Nationals defense. This likely means he was getting a little unlucky. His 4.18 xFIP also indicates that this may have been the case.
Interestingly, Stammen completely changed his pitching approach in 2010, shifting from throwing his slider 1.7% of the time to 21.6% of the time. Thats a major adjustment. Unfortunately, the results weren't as dramatic as the change itself.
The move to try to give Stammen a new career as a reliever makes sense at this point for both the club and the pitcher. With the eventual return of Ross Detwiler, Jordan Zimmermann, and Jason Marquis, there will be no room on the roster for any more starting pitchers. At 26, with 31 major league starts, it doesn't appear Stammen has the package to be a starter at the top level. Perhaps he can experience a similar career resurgence to the one Tyler Clippard has with a move to the bullpen.