Drew Storen's last relief appearance came Friday night against the Colorado Rockies in relief of fellow '09 1st Round pick Stephen Strasburg. The Washington Nationals' no.1 overall pick from 2009 went seven innings in a strong outing in Nationals Park, and the no.10 pick of that draft class threw a 14-pitch scoreless eighth, walking leadoff batter Dexter Fowler before buckling down to record three straight outs (DJ LeMahie on a popped up bunt; Carlos Gonzalez looking with an 0-2 fastball, and Michael Cuddyer swinging with the 0-2 wipeout slider), setting Rafael Soriano up for the save.
When Nats' GM Mike Rizzo signed Soriano as a free agent this winter, this was how he envisioned things working. Had Strasburg not made it through seven, Tyler Clippard might have preceded Storen out of the pen with an inning of work in relief. Though Storen and Clippard had previously served as the team's closer, the ninth inning would be Soriano's in 2013. "One of them is going to close out the seventh," Rizzo said this winter, "one will close out the eighth and one will finish the game in the ninth and we feel pretty good about that."
Johnson said this was the case on Friday night in the nation's capital. Storen closed out the eighth and Soriano locked down the win, earning his 19th save in 22 opportunities so far. "I mean, [Storen] had the tough part of the lineup," Davey Johnson told reporters after the win over the Rockies. Storen faced the 1-4 hitters in the eighth, Soriano 5-8 in the ninth. "He really pitched the two tough hitters in their lineup really tough."
"He's actually pitching more," the manager said, "[Bullpen coach] Jimmy Lett just said something to me. 'What was he coming in there throwing [Carlos] Gonzalez changeups and backdoor sliders?' I said, 'I like that, he's pitching. Everybody knows he throws hard. And it keeps them back a little bit better and then when he did throw the fastball to Gonzalez, after a lot of junk up there, it just froze him, I liked that."
While Storen's struggled to retire left-handed hitters (.339/.397/.607 w/ all 4 HRs he's allowed hit by LHB), Johnson left the right-hander in against Gonzalez (.305/.348/.533 vs RHP) and Storen shut the Rockies' All-Star slugger down pretty convincingly.
Storen struggled at the start of the season, of course, posting a 5.43 ERA with one walk (0.87 BB/9) and 12 Ks (10.45 K/9) in 10 1/3 innings pitched in March/April, with opposing hitters putting up a .333/.348/.533 line against the right-hander. Opponents had a .304/.377/.391 line against Storen in May as the 25-year-old right-hander lowered the ERA a little to 3.65 for the month, while walking five (3.65 BB/9) and striking out nine (6.57 K/9) in 12 1/3 IP.
Aside from one bad outing against the Rockies (4 H, 1 BB, 3 ER in 1.0 IP), Storen's had a strong month of June though, with a 3.68 ERA, two walks (2.45 BB/9) and nine Ks (11.05 K/9) in 7 1/3 IP in which opposing hitters have a .214/.267/.429 line. Davey Johnson was happy with what he saw from Storen in his last outing.
Will teams looking for a closer, with the non-waiver trade deadline approaching, once again ask the Nationals about the former closer's availability?
The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo listed Storen as a "interesting alternative" for teams looking for late inning relief. "Storen was the Nationals’ closer two years ago, saving 43 games," the Globe reporter wrote Sunday, "He had a good season last year, but has fallen off this year with a 1.433 WHIP. The feeling is he could get those juices flowing again. He’s done the job before, but has been replaced by Rafael Soriano." Storen's name has come up in trade rumors before, with reports in 2011 saying Storen was possibly going to Minnesota in return for then-Twins-now-Nats' center fielder Denard Span.
Would the Nationals consider dealing Storen now? With fans turning out in the nation's capital and the team struggling, Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell wrote this morning that he thinks there might be some "mid-course corrections" coming in the next few weeks for the (37-38) Nats some thought would go to the World Series this year when the season began. The decision the Nationals have to make, in the WaPost reporter's opinion, is a difficult one:
"What moves can you make? And which do you avoid because you would have to trade away valuable players who could be long-term assets?"
With Dan Haren placed on the DL, do the Nationals need to go out and get another starter? Asked which pitcher would fill Haren's spot in the rotation on Sunday, Davey Johnson said it might be one of the prospects in the organization, with Taylor Jordan's name the one on everyone's lips, though the manager didn't offer any names to reporters. The WaPost's Mr. Boswell mentions Jordan, but also lists the names of three pitchers he describes as "clear cut candidates" should the Nationals be willing to take on some payroll with the goal of turning this season around. The three pitchers he names are, "... the Cubs’ Matt Garza and Scott Feldman and the Marlins’ Ricky Nolasco."
"Tougher gets" as he describes them, include the Brewers' Yovani Gallardo, the Phillies' Cliff Lee and the Rays' David Price. If no one in the organization steps up, the Washington Post reporter says, "... the Nats absolutely have to acquire one of the best pitchers on the market before the deadline."
Both Drew Storen and Danny Espinosa have been mentioned in trade talks in years past, and Mr. Boswell notes that the Nats seem to be "showcasing" Espinosa at short in Syracuse now, but each had a lot more shine on them when their names came up previously, while Storen's been through the Game 5 fiasco in the NLDS and lost his job as the closer and Espinosa's currently in Triple-A with a torn rotator cuff, healing wrist and serious issues at the plate.
In a chat today, the WaPost writer kicked around some trade ideas. There are many more rumors and suggestions to follow over the next month. Can the Washington Nationals make a deal for a pitcher or a right-handed bat that can turn things around?