By Kyle Shaner
SAN DIEGO – After almost two full seasons out of Major League Baseball, Craig Stammen had to overcome some mental obstacles this year, but now he’s back and strong as ever.
“April was a tough month,” he said, “me figuring out if I was good enough and believing in myself.”
Stammen, a Versailles High School alumnus, has proven himself as a reliable member of the San Diego Padres’ bullpen this season, but the path to success hasn’t been smooth.
His struggles began in April 2015 as a relief pitcher for the Washington Nationals when he tore a flexor tendon in his right forearm, which ended his season after just five appearances. It was the first major injury of his career and one that sidelined him for an entire season.
Stammen recovered enough to resume pitching last summer as a minor leaguer in the Cleveland Indians’ farm system, but he didn’t make it back to the majors.
In December he signed a minor league contract with San Diego, which Stammen saw as his best opportunity to return to the major leagues.
He did just that – making the Padres’ 25-man roster out of spring training – but had some early struggles as he posted an 8.49 ERA in 10 games in April.
“It’s kind of funny,” Stammen said, “you think should pick up right back up where you left off, but it’s not that easy.”
As a member of the Nationals, Stammen had pitched a league-leading 242 2/3 innings out of the bullpen from 2012-14 with a 2.93 ERA and 222 strikeouts.
Stammen said he had to overcome some mental obstacles early this season as he tried to regain that form. He credited the Padres’ faith in him, rediscovering his love of the game and his desire to be a role model for kids back home with his resurgence in May and June.
In May Stammen posted a 2.65 ERA in 17 innings pitched, and in June he recorded an ERA of 1.84 in 14 2/3 innings. Overall this season his ERA sits at 4.53.
“I threw the ball as good as I ever have in my career,” he said. “I know I’m throwing the ball better than my numbers say.”
While his ERA is high because of a few rough outings, other statistics show Stammen is pitching as well as he ever has.
His WHIP – a statistic that measures walks and hits allowed per inning – is 1.24. That is below his career average of 1.30 and his best mark since 2012 when he had a WHIP of 1.20.
Among all pitchers who’ve thrown at least 40 innings this season, Stammen’s WHIP is 37th best in the major leagues.
“Hopefully I can stay strong in the second half of the season,” he said.
The second half of the season could present some changes for Stammen. With the Padres 12.5 games out of playoff position and playing in one of the toughest divisions in baseball, they could look to trade some veteran players. Stammen has been mentioned as player who could be moved.
“I think this is probably the first time in my career I’ve maybe thought about being traded,” he said. “If I do, that’s just the way it is.”
Although he knows he could be traded sometime this month, Stammen isn’t worried about that possibility. Instead his focus is on helping San Diego continue to improve. The Padres, like him, are showing signs of progress after a rough start to the season, he said.
He enjoys being in San Diego and would like to finish the season with the Padres.
“San Diego is a really nice city,” Stammen said. “It’s like waking up on vacation every day.”
For the All-Star break, Stammen has returned home to North Star. He’s visiting with his family, working on renovations to a home he purchased in the area and recharging his mind for the remainder of the season.
Being on the West Coast has made it more difficult for Stammen’s friends and family to watch his games, but they’ve still been able to see him play.
“It’s tough with the late night starts, but Mom and Dad have been able to come out three different times to San Diego,” Stammen said.
In early August the Padres will play games at Pittsburgh and Cincinnati – a road trip Stammen already is looking forward to. He anticipates having lots of friends and family members attending the games as many get a chance to see him play in person for the first time in more than two years.