BY PETER HAILEY
Having used six pitchers through the first 10 innings of Thursday's game against the Mets, Nationals manager Matt Williams needed someone to come in and hold down the fort for a little while.
Craig Stammen was Williams' choice, and according to what Stammen has done lately, it was a risky one. In his last 10 appearances out of the bullpen, the righty reliever had given up 12 earned runs and 24 hits in just 14 total innings of work. In his last outing - three days ago against Baltimore - he gave up six hits and two earned runs alone.
Stammen, however, was able to bounce back after his long string of poor outings in the Nats' 5-3 win over the Mets. He went three innings and allowed one hit and two walks (one intentional), but struck out two and, most importantly, kept the Mets' score stuck at three when his team absolutely needed him to.
"I felt a little more comfortable out there," Stammen said. "I've been working on a few things. I made some good pitches, got some outs early, and it gave me a little confidence to keep going."
After entering the game in the 11th, it was immediately evident that Stammen's go-to pitch, his sinker, was working.
"That's my bread and butter. When it's working, I usually have decent success. For the past couple of weeks it might have been struggling, but you just have to keep going after it, do the best you can, and hopefully it comes back."
Stammen's first two innings of work went by without much trouble. The 13th inning, however, was a different story.
After getting two easy groundouts to start the frame, David Wright smacked a Stammen fastball into the left field gap for a double. Lucas Duda was then intentionally walked to set up a righty on righty matchup with Mets left fielder Eric Campbell.
Campbell hit a hard bouncer right at Stammen, who reacted quickly and knocked the ball down with his glove. It looked as if the ricochet may allow Campbell to reach base safely, but Stammen recovered, picked the ball up barehanded, and tossed it over to first to end the inning and preserve the 3-3 tie.
Had Stammen not reacted the way he did, the Nats' lead would have been lost.
"He made a nice play on it," said Williams. "It’s not easy. When you release the ball, you’re about 58 feet from home plate and it gets on you pretty quick."
When asked about how good it was to see the reliever pitch well after struggling over the past month or so, shortstop Ian Desmond showed confidence in Stammen's ability.
" 'Struggling,' I don't think he was really struggling. That job he has is really hard and he's done it really well for a long time. He's always gonna be there for us."
After taking the last two games from the Mets, the Nationals are now headed down to Atlanta for a crucial three game set with the second place Braves. Stammen was very pleased with today's hard-fought win, and thinks it'll boost the team's morale before their big weekend series.
"It's good. It puts us in a positive mode before going to face the Braves. We know these three games are going to be big because they are right on our tails. We're happy."