WASHINGTON - The pro baseball career for Craig Stammen fits in nice five-year packages.
He was drafted by the Nationals out of the University of Dayton in 2005, played his first full season in the majors in 2010 and his last year in Washington was in 2015.
Now the long-time reliever – here in 2020 – is part of a team for the first time that won a postseason series. A member of the Padres, he “started” on the mound in the deciding Game 3 last week as San Diego eliminated the St. Louis Cardinals 4-0 on Friday.
“It feels really good; it was kind of like a little bit of revenge,” Stammen, 36, told Federal Baseball on Monday, referring to the Nationals loss to the Cardinals in Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS. “They are such a tough team and a tough out in the playoffs. It kind of got the monkey off my back.”
San Diego, without two top starting pitchers, used a record nine hurlers in the shutout over the Cardinals.
“We had done a few bullpen days throughout the season. We had actually done a few right at the end of the season,” said Stammen, whose last start in the majors came in 2010. “It was a perfect time for us; we knew Game 3 was going to be a bullpen day anyway. There were no surprises. It was exciting to be part of a clinching game. Now we get to face a division rival in the Dodgers.”
The Padres will oppose the Los Angeles Dodgers in a best-of-five series that begins Tuesday in Texas. Stammen, in his career against the Dodgers, is 2-3 with an ERA of 3.81 in 36 games with one start.
Stammen now gets to watch on a regular basis San Diego shortstop Fernando Tatis, Jr., considered one of the bright young stars in the game.
“It has been amazing. It’s like when Bryce Harper first came up to the Nationals (in 2012). I am always comparing him to that; he brings excitement to the game. He is a great kid and great leader for our team,” Stammen said of Tatis. “He and (third baseman) Manny Machado feed off each other; they get along so well. It is a great dynamic for our team. I can’t say enough good things about them.”
Machado is a former Orioles’ star and the San Diego coaching staff includes former Baltimore coaches Bobby Dickerson (bench coach) and Wayne Kirby (first base coach), who grew up in Williamsburg, Va., and is the brother of former NFL running back Terry Kirby.
Ryan Flaherty, a former Orioles’ player, also is on the coaching staff of the Padres as an advance scout and development coach.
“Great coaches; great to have them on our side now,” Stammen said. “We have our Orioles’ contingent here with the Padres.”
Stammen played against the Orioles on a regular basis when he was in Washington.
Other members of the Padres’ baseball operations are former Orioles’ outfielder Steve Finley, a special assistant in player development; and ex-big league reliever Mike Venafro, a scout who was born in Maryland, went to high school at Paul VI in Fairfax, Va., and played in college at JMU.
Stammen keeps in touch with several of his former Nationals’ teammates, such as Drew Storen, Ross Detwiler (White Sox in 2020), Tyler Clippard (Twins), Ian Desmond (Rockies), Anthony Rendon (Angels), Jordan Zimmermann (Tigers), and Ryan Zimmerman, part of the Nationals’ 2005 draft class with Stammen.
“We had a pretty close-knit team back then and it built some life-long friendships,” Stammen said.
Desmond and Zimmerman opted out of the past season, in part due to family concerns and the pandemic.
“I think it was a personal decision for everybody who has a way of looking at what is going on with the pandemic,” Stammen said.
“Everyone has their own personal family situation. They are at points in their careers where baseball is not as important as it would be for other guys. Those two guys – you don’t ever question their decision making – two great men and fortunate they were my teammates,” he said of Desmond and Zimmerman.
“It is definitely something different. Some of it seems like overkill and over the top,” Stammen said of protocols enforced by MLB. “But there is no reason to complain about it; it was something we had to do to get this season going. We are trying to make the best of it. We are trying to enjoy the bubble that we are in now and use it as time as something we will remember forever. If we can pull a few more wins out of this it will be even more enjoyable.”
A product of the University of Dayton, where he was teammates with former Washington pitcher Jerry Blevins, Stammen was with the Nationals from 2009 to 2015.
He didn’t pitch in the majors in 2016 while in the Cleveland system, as he came back from an injury he suffered with the Nats in 2015, then returned to the big leagues with the Padres in 2017.
Stammen pitched in a career-high 76 games in 2019 and posted an ERA of 3.29 and slumped this year to 5.63 in 24 games out of the bullpen for pitching coach Larry Rothschild and rookie manager Jayce Tingler.
Stammen was drafted in 2005 by Washington and pitched that year with Vermont in the New York-Penn League.
His first full year of pro ball came in 2006 with low Single-A Savannah in the South Atlantic League – where he had Paul Menhart as his pitching coach. Menhart became the Nationals’ pitching coach in May 2019, aided the World Series club then had his contract expire earlier this month.
“Love that guy to death; one of my favorites I ever had; sad to see he is leaving D.C. He will land on his feet because he is a good pitching coach,” Stammen said from his hotel in Texas. “Steve McCatty was the same way” in Washington.
The Ohio native notes, in general, pitching coaches are a big aid to veteran pitchers since they watch video, come up with scouting reports, and may discover the one pitch or sequence that can get a batter out.
Stammen is also involved off the field with baseball: he is on the MLB athlete advisory board member for Catholic Athletes for Christ.
He got to know the founder, Ray McKenna, a lawyer from Arlington, when he was pitching for the Nationals.
Stammen said that 28 of 30 Major League stadiums are set up for Catholic mass for players.
Former players who have been involved with Catholic Athletes for Christ, based in Alexandria, Va., include Mike Sweeney, Jeff Suppan, Sal Bando, Terry Kennedy, David Eckstein, and Mike Piazza.
“It has increased my faith,” Stammen said of the organization. “It is a great organization.”