Aug. 29, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Washington Nationals relief pitcher Drew Storen (left) talks with catcher Kurt Suzuki (right) during the eighth inning against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park. The Nationals won 8-4. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
All but two of 25-year-old reliever Drew Storen's outings this season have been scoreless efforts as the '09 1st Round pick has worked himself back into form following surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow earlier this summer. The procedure delayed the start of Storen's 2012 campaign until July 19th. By the time the Nats' 2011 closer returned to the majors, Tyler Clippard had already saved nine games in nine opportunities after the 27-year-old reliever took over the closer's role in Storen's absence. Davey Johnson, not wanting to mess with something that was working, kept Clippard as his closer rather than return Storen to the ninth-inning role in which he excelled the previous year, saving 43 games in his second pro season and posting a 2.75 ERA, 3.32 FIP, 20 BB (2.39 BB/9) and 74 Ks (8.84 K/9) in 73 games and 75.1 IP.
Clippard's saved 28 games this season, putting up a 2.73 ERA, 3.03 FIP, 26 walks (3.94 BB/9) and 70 Ks (10.62 K/9) in 60 games and 59.1 IP. After Storen's somewhat miraculous (and a little lucky) escape act last night in the Nationals' win over the Marlins, the former Stanford Cardinal closer has a 3.60 ERA, 3.57 FIP, 8 BB and 10 Ks in 20 games and 15.0 IP. Storen had three tough outings earlier this month, including one against San Francisco in which he gave up three hits, a walk and four runs, but after a four-pitch inning against Atlanta last week, Nats' skipper Davey Johnson told reporters he liked what he was seeing from the right-handed reliever.
"The last two or three times out it looked like he was trying to become a breaking ball pitcher," Johnson told reporters, "and it wasn't a very good looking breaking ball either. Today he said, 'Here hit it.' And I liked it. That's the guy that saved 43 games for us and that seventh was huge. So was the eighth. They're all huge, but Storen hadn't been in the kind of groove that other guys have been in, but he stepped it up tonight."
Storen entered the seventh inning of that game against the Braves on August 21st with a 4-1 lead after a strong outing by Stephen Strasburg and put Dan Uggla, Brian McCann and Juan Francisco down in order. Sean Burnett pitched a scoreless eighth and Clippard came on to close it out in the ninth, earning his 28th save of the season that night. The next time out, on the road in Philadelphia, Storen was called up to help B-pen lefty Michael Gonzalez out of a jam after Gonzalez had given an RBI single by Chase Utley and the lead in what was a 2-2 game before he took the mound. Three pitches later Storen got an inning-ending DP out of John Mayberry to limit the damage in a game that Nats would eventually lose.
Last night in Miami, Storen was called upon to help Sean Burnett out of trouble after the A-pen's lefty had given up a leadoff single and a "double" on a grounder Ryan Zimmerman couldn't field that put runners on second and third with no outs in what was a 6-4 game in the Nats' favor. Storen gave up a line drives to center by El Caballo, Carlos Lee, on a 96 mph, 1-2 sinker, but got help from Bryce Harper in center, who made a catch while coming in and threw a strike to the plate to hold the Marlins' runner at third. A 1-2 slider (that was kind of meaty) got by Giancarlo Stanton swinging for out no.2 and a 1-2 breaking ball got a weak grounder to third from Justin Ruggiano to strand both runners he'd inherited and preserve the Nats' two-run lead. 13 pitches, 10 strikes, 1 K.
"Storen won the game for us," Davey Johnson told reporters following the win, "He had to go through a very hot middle of their order and he made great pitches and got us out of that jam and that won the game." Storen told MASN's Kristina Akra after the win that though he's still not back to 100%, he's feeling better each time out. "I felt great," Storen said, "I thought my slider was good today. I was able to throw it for strikes and that's a big thing for me. So, that's sharp and like you said, step forward every time I'm out there."
With a little over a month left to go in the regular season, the Nationals' bullpen has the second-highest total IP, the fifth-lowest ERA (3.28) in the National League, the sixth-lowest FIP (3.72), fourth-lowest HR/9 (0.78 tied w/ Atlanta), the second-lowest BABIP (.272) and the seventh-best fWAR (+2.6). With Storen getting close to being back to 100% and Tyler Clippard still going strong, the Nats have two late inning options going forward and Davey Johnson's got an A and B closer that he can turn to should the Nationals need to shut opponents down in the seventh, eighth or ninth. And the bullpen becomes even more important in those game they play after the regular season has ended. You know, if the Nats are able to get to this "postseason" thing...