VIERA, Fla. — Even with a new manager leading the team, Versailles High School alumnus Craig Stammen doesn’t expect his role to change much with the Washington Nationals this season.
After missing the playoffs in 2013 despite expectations of winning the World Series, the Nationals replaced manager Davey Johnson with Matt Williams. The new skipper has brought a new attitude to Washington’s clubhouse, Stammen said, but there haven’t been drastic changes to the North Star product’s role.
“I’m just trying to stick around, stay in the big leagues, continuing improving from what I did last year,” Stammen said.
During the 2013 season, Stammen’s fifth year in the Major Leagues, he had another strong season with a 2.76 ERA. It was his second full season in the Nationals’ bullpen and second consecutive year with a ERA below 3.00.
Having established himself as a solid contributor in the Nationals’ bullpen, Stammen said, spring training was less stressful this year as he didn’t have to worry about fighting for a spot on the roster. He was able to ease himself into the spring training regimen and didn’t have to worry about being in tiptop shape on day one, he said.
“I think I’m peaking at the right time as spring slows down,” Stammen said.
Stammen said he’s pitched well this spring as he’s accumulated a 3.38 ERA and 1-0 record in 10.2 innings on the mound. He’s struck out nine batters while allowing just three walks.
Overall it was a good spring for the Nationals, Stammen said, as the players were able to get their work in and stay healthy.
“Spring was uneventful I guess you could say because everyone stayed healthy,” he said.
With Williams as the team’s new manager, he’s brought a younger perspective than Johnson and connects well with the players, Stammen said. The 48-year-old Williams last played in the majors in 2003 compared to the 71-year-old Johnson who last played in 1978.
Williams understands the players a little better, Stammen said, and he’s made practices more regimented, both of which have made camp more enjoyable and had a positive effect on the team.
“I think he’s going to be a good change for us,” Stammen said.
The Nationals still have high hopes for the season. After winning the National League East with a Major League-leading record of 98-64 in 2012, they entered 2013 saying the expectation was to win the World Series.
Following an 86-76 record last year, the team has ratcheted back its focus a little.
“No. 1 goal is we’re going to try to win the National League East,” Stammen said. “If we accomplish that goal everything else will take care of itself.”
After winning the division, Washington then would reset and turn its focus to winning in the playoffs and ultimately contending for a World Series title.
Personally Stammen is hoping for another strong season and wants to help the team as much as possible in his role of jack of all trades, which allows him to pitch in any relief situation. With having more experience, Stammen said, he could envision himself pitching in more late-inning situations this year, but that remains to be determined.
Stammen is ready to head back north, he said, although he was happy to go to Florida for spring training the past couple months to avoid the frigid winter that hit the northern United States.
“It was really nice,” Stammen said. “I was probably the No. 1 fan of going down to Florida on the team.”