WASHINGTON -- Reliever Craig Stammen has arguably been the best reliever in the Nationals' bullpen this year. Entering Monday's action, Stammen led Washington relievers in strikeouts with 10 and had a 1.17 ERA.
Prior to this year, Stammen was never a strikeout pitcher in the big leagues. What's the change? He is 100 percent healthy and trusts his pitching instincts.
"I don't think it's a drastic change. I'm getting an opportunity and I'm trying to take advantage of it as best as I can," Stammen said. "I guess I didn't really trust what kind of pitcher I was. And now I understand, I'm a breaking-ball pitcher, not just a sinkerballer, but I can do both. And now that I have both of those working, it has gone well."
Stammen started the 2012 season as a long man, but has been pitching in the late innings when the game is on the line. That's OK with Stammen.
"Every player wants to have an extended role, no matter what," Stammen said. "When I go out there, you always have something to prove. I'm just trying to prove my worth to the team, help this team win, continually have that little chip on your shoulder. When people don't believe in you, you have to make them believe."
Desmond credits Johnson for fast start
WASHINGTON -- Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond is off to the best start of his career. Entering Monday's action, Desmond was 17-for-48 (.354) with an on-base percentage of .380.
A big reason Desmond is off to the good start is because he is no longer worried about his status on the team. If he goes hitless in a game, Desmond knows he is not going to be on the bench the next day.
In the past, Desmond found himself on the bench at times so that veteran players such as Cristian Guzman, Jerry Hairston Jr., Adam Kennedy or Alex Cora could get a start or two.
But before the 2012 season began, manager Davey Johnson told Desmond that he was going to play every day and hit at the top of the order, which was music to Desmond's ears.
"It's nice to know that if I go 0-for-5, I'm not going to come in the next day and need a break," Desmond said. "Davey understands that you don't have to come out and have success every single day. It's nice to have the support of the manager."
Wang to pitch simulated game on Wednesday
WASHINGTON -- Nationals right-hander Chien-Ming Wang, who is on the disabled list because of a strained left hamstring, will pitch in a simulated game on Wednesday at the Nationals' Minor League complex in Viera, Fla.
If the outing is successful, Wang will then begin a rehab assignment. It's not known what Minor League affiliate he will pitch for. Wang is expected to be activated from the disabled list in late April or early May.
Wang was slated to be Washington's fifth starter to begin the season, but he hurt his hamstring in a Grapefruit League game against the Yankees on March 15.
Johnson gives Espinosa mental break
WASHINGTON -- Nationals manager Davey Johnson decided to give Danny Espinosa the day off on Monday and start Stephen Lombardozzi at second base. Johnson said he wanted to give Espinosa a mental break.
Johnson feels that Espinosa is simply trying too hard. Entering Monday's action, Espinosa was 7-for-36 (.194) with a home run and four RBIs.
"He has played almost every inning under me since I've been here. I like him a lot," Johnson said. "He is mentally pressing a little bit. He is not alone. [Ryan Zimmerman] is in that category. I'm thinking about giving him a blow. It's just a mental break.
"Guys who have a [good] makeup, they try to do too much. They try to make it happen. What happens is that you expand the zone and you get yourself out more than you should."
Manager Davey Johnson said Tyler Clippard's shoulder is OK, but the right-hander was not available to pitch on Monday against the Astros. Johnson announced on Sunday that Clippard was dealing with shoulder discomfort the day before, but Clippard downplayed the situation, saying that it was typical arm soreness.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.