After the Washington Nationals announced last night that they had decided to option 25-year-old reliever Drew Storen to Triple-A Syracuse, Storen's friend and teammate Tyler Clippard shared his thoughts on the signing of closer Rafael Soriano this winter and the message it sent to Storen after the Nats' closer's devastating outing in Game 5 of last October's NLDS.
"You basically send a guy a message this offseason," Clippard told reporters, "for having one bad game, that he's not the guy for the job. He's only human. I mean, it's going to get to anybody. Eight months later, you get to a point where he’s struggling, and you turn the page on him and you send him down. It’s not necessarily turning the page on him, because I think he needs to regroup and get out of this environment and take a deep breath and re-gather himself. I just think it’s been handled very poorly."
Davey Johnson was asked this morning if he'd heard Clippard's comments?
"I saw some of it," Johnson said, "I understand all of it."
"Unfortunately" the 70-year-old skipper continued, "a lot of those things... that's baseball. We had four new guys in the 'pen before that. And it's a different culture."
The Nationals parted with Sean Burnett, Tom Gorzelanny and Mike Gonzalez last winter. Over the season they've worked Ian Krol and Fernando Abad in, after thinking they could get by with their right-handers against left-handed hitters since they had good splits against right-handers. A lot changed in the Nats' bullpen.
Asked if Clippard's comments brought the situation with Storen and Soriano out into the open, Johnson said it wasn't exactly a secret. "It's been out," Johnson responded to the reporter who asked. "What do you live in a vapor lock? It's not news."
In Syracuse, the Nats' skipper explained last night, Storen can straighten things out. "He just needs to get right mentally and mechanically because I need him," Johnson said, "It's that simple. But I don't need him where he's at, where he kind of, at times fights the situation."
The Nationals have talked about some of the mechanical changes Storen's made as he's struggled including bringing back a high leg kick in his delivery which Johnson said today he'd never seen before. "I saw him, that high leg kick, I had heard [that] he was doing something, but I wasn't here when he was doing that. So I've only seen the hip movement and the stiff left leg. I haven't seen that other move. I saw it the first time when I had him warming up on his death bed out there [on Friday afternoon]. And I liked what I saw."
"He needs to make a little improvement in his uniform," Johnson joked, referring to the high stirrups Storen wore yesterday. "But I don't know how [the high leg kick] translates into -- does he slide step off of that? I don't know what he did off of that with runners on? But in 2011 when he saved 43 games he was stiff front-legging it. So, it was pretty successful that year."
"The way he was doing the other one [the high leg kick]," Johnson said, "there was no way he could hardly speed it up. I don't know if that was a suggestion of [Pitching Coach Steve] McCatty's or his, I haven't got to that point, but the ball was coming out of his hand okay. It looked more natural to me. The stiff leg... I've never had many pitchers that did that, that move... that was kind of an abberation. But he threw the heck out of the ball when he was doing it. But he wasn't that slow."
"I think a lot of things that Clippard was talking about where going through [Storen's] mind all the time," Johnson said. "And he was feeling persecuted. And like I've told you guys before -- you have to be mentally prepared to go in and do that job. And I know that I've got guys that are thinking with me when they come out [of the bullpen] and throw the inning before with the outfielders and very seldom did I see that with Drew coming [out] and throwing. So, if mentally you don't think that's going to be your spot, like those guys come out and throw to our outfielders, then it's to me, hard for them to come in really prepared to pitch."