Drew Storen took the mound in the seventh inning this afternoon in Nationals Park with a three-run lead over the Milwaukee Brewers. Washington's 26-year-old '09 1st Round pick was coming off a four-hit, four-run inning of work in the second game of the four-game series with Milwaukee in the nation's capital, but the Nationals' right-handed reliever had been solid for a two-week stretch before that, giving up just three hits and one earned run in seven innings of work in which he'd walked two, K'd 10 and held opposing hitters to a .120/.185/.200 line.
Ryan Zimmerman did one of his trademark™ charging plays on a bunt by Jeff Bianchi for the first out of the seventh inning, but a 2-2 change up in the zone to Yuniesky Betancourt ended up in the seats in left field for a solo blast that got the Brewers within two at 5-3. Storen got Norichika Aoki swinging with a full-count fastball inside that fooled the outfielder who was 2 for 4 this afternoon and 8 for 17 in this series with a National League-low 4.8% K% on the year coming into today's game. Jean Segura singled to center on a 2-2 slider in the next at bat, though, and Carlos Gomez jumped all over a hanging 0-2 slider and hit a two-run home run to left that tied the game at 5-5.
Storen got out of the inning, but the Nationals' lead had evaporated. What's been different in Storen's last two outings after he had a run of success? "By and large he was just keeping his two-seamer down and locating that," Davey Johnson told reporters after today's game. "Occasionally he'd throw a get-me-over curve ball to a left-hander to get ahead, but by and large it was his fastball. Up until that point he has a tendency to try to overpower and try to trick people and he doesn't have to trick people with that stuff. And like I say, hopefully he'll learn, because he shook off a bunch of times today to get to the hanging changeup and the hanging breaking ball."
Tom Gorzelanny retired the first two batters in his second inning of work in the bottom of the seventh, but Jayson Werth knocked the lefty out of the game with a two-out single to left. Right-hander Brandon Kintzler took over on the mound and walked Anthony Rendon to put two runners on for Wilson Ramos, who was 2 for 3 with a single at that point in his first major league game since May 15th. Ramos had more hits in the first six innings today than he did had in three rehab games with the High-A Potomac Nationals.
Davey Johnson thought he had one more in him. "You know, I was talking to Randy [Knorr]," Johnson told reporters after the game, "and I said, 'He's had a good day, he might as well just hit one out here.' And boom! Sure enough he did." Ramos crushed a 1-0 slider from the Brewers' reliever and sent the 4th of July crowd in the nation's capital into a frenzy. "That pitching must have been awful tough down in Potomac," the Nats' skipper quipped, "That was just a great game for him, and he called a great game." 3 for 4, 5 RBIs and the game-winning home run? Welcome back, Ramos.
Asked if he'd worried at all about Ramos going hitless in his rehab stint, Johnson said, "No. I know how it is. Those kids down there are hyped up, they've got a big leaguer. And they're throwing up and in, down and away and he's just trying to get some timing. The only thing I was concerned about is how he felt coming out of the games and was the leg all right."
Ramos' leg was fine today. After Storen's rough seventh, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano pitched the eighth and ninth, respectively, and the Nationals earned a split of the four-game set with the visiting Brewers.
Having Ramos back worked out well for the Nationals today, and if he can stay healthy, he'll give Washington a chance to rest Kurt Suzuki, who did the bulk of the catching while Ramos was on the DL recovering from his second hamstring injury of the season. "Suzuki has been catching 90% of the games," Johnson said, "And it's tough, especially in this heat." Now they can go back to sharing the catching duties.
"And it was working when they were both spelling each other," Johnson said of the first month-plus of the season, "and I think [Ramos] is well-rested enough to take more workload in the catching."
So he'll be back in the lineup tomorrow?
"I told you before he did that," Johnson told reporters, "that I was planning on him [playing Friday]. He was going to have all night to rest and all day tomorrow. We're going to cage hit, I'm going to make it real easy on him. Yes, he'll catch tomorrow."