Following a start that saw him only pitch 1.1 innings and allow seven earned on seven hits, it's safe to say that sophomore starting pitcher Craig Stammen had been waiting anxiously for his start last night. The 26-year-old made the most of it, tossing eight innings of five-hit baseball, striking out five while allowing only two runs en-route to a 5-2 Nationals victory.
The righty dominated the game, never giving Colorado a chance to come back. Following Willie Harris's second inning home run (.211 WPA), the Rockies never had a win expectancy higher than 35.8 percent. Colorado's best chances came when Ian Stewart and Clint Barmes hit back-to-back doubles (-.144 WPA) and scored a run, a rally quickly extinguished when Stammen retired the next three; and when he loaded the bases on a walk, a double, and a single, but only allowed one run on a fielders choice to remain unscathed.
Despite going eight strong innings Stammen tossed an efficient 94 pitches in the outing, 63 for strikes. It was by far his most controlled outing of the season, which reflected far and away the best results. In his first two starts Stammen struggled to find control of a new pitch that he has been trying to implement this year, a slider. Last season he only threw his slider 1.7 % of the time but this year he has thrown it with 23.6% of his pitches. The problem though has been commanding the new "nickel-curve." In Stammen's first outing he tossed it 18 times for six strikes, in his second outing he tossed it 12 times for only seven strikes, in this outing, however, Stammen attacked the strike zone with the slider, tossing it 26 times for 18 strikes.
The result of an effective slider was noticeable. When a pitcher can't throw a breaking pitch for a strike batters will simply ignore it and not swing at it, and then destroy the fastball when it crosses the plate. This is evidenced by Stammen only registering five swinging strikes in his first two starts combined. However, with command over his breaking pitches he had 13 swinging strikes last night alone (eight of which came off his slider). The ability to locate the slider also makes his other pitches better. By creating a threat out of the pitch, it makes it that much harder to anticipate which pitch will come, therefor making his fastball and curveball more dangerous.
Not only was his performance important for the Nationals who improved to 7-6 on the young season, it was important for a young pitcher who projects to be, at best, a third starter on a winning ball club. While the Nationals rotation is slim-pickings now, by the end of this year he will be competing with Stephen Strasburg, Ross Detwiler, Jordan Zimmermann and Chien-Ming Wang for three spots in the Nationals rotation. The first three of those starters have projected top of the rotation talent while Wang is a former ace of a playoff ball club. If Stammen wants to be on this team come September, he needs more outings like the one he had tonight.
-Adam Dunn got on base three-out-of-four plate appearances with two walks and a hit. He scored two runs.
-Willie Harris drove in four runs on two hits.
-Miguel Olivio tossed out two of the faster runners in the game in Nyjer Morgan and Willy Taveras, both attempting to steal second base. Justin Baxwell was picked off first by former National Joe Biemel.
-Matt Capps pitched a scoreless frame to earn his MAJOR LEAGUE LEADING sixth save of the season.