Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard, Craig Stammen and Drew Storen all ended up pitching in Thursday afternoon's game after starter Stephen Strasburg gave up a 4-1 lead in the top of the ninth in Chicago. It was the third straight day of work for Tyler Clippard, who'd thrown three scoreless in the second, third and fourth games against the Cubs. Rafael Soriano had worked three straight before last night too, giving up five hits and a run in 2 1/3 less-than-impressive innings on the mound. Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson told reporters before the game that he wanted to lay off Stammen Clippard and Soriano, so Drew Storen, who'd earned his third save of the year in the series finale in Wrigley Field would be called upon to close again if necessary last night in Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City:
Davey says Soriano, Clippard and Stammen are down tonight. If there's a save chance, Storen will be the closer.— Adam Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP) August 23, 2013
Storen was working on a streak of five scoreless appearances since returning from a stint with the Nats' Triple-A affiliate when he entered the game in the ninth inning last night with the Nationals up 11-7 on the Royals. From the start, Davey Johnson was unhappy with what he saw. Storen fell behind Royals' left fielder Alex Gordon, who was 3 for 4 at that point, and walked him when he missed with a 94 mph 3-1 fastball. Storen then started behind Eric Hosmer, who was 2 for 2 with two walks, with three straight balls, but then went to a full count and gave up a double to right on the ninth pitch of the at bat and Storen's 14th pitch overall.
It was his last. Storen threw 14 pitches total, 7 strikes.
Davey Johnson went to his closer since it was a save situation at that point. Soriano got a groundout to short from Salvador Perez in the next at bat, but it brought in a run to make it 11-8. Billy Butler took a first-pitch fastball to right that put two runners on and brought the tying run to the plate and then Butler's pinch runner, Jarrod Dyson, stole second on what was ruled defensive indifference to put two runners in scoring position for Justin Maxwell, who stepped to the plate 1 for 4 with a home run to that point. Maxwell lined a single to center and drove in two runs and a four-run lead was down to one, 11-10 Nationals.
Two more pitches got Soriano the next two outs and earned him his 33rd save of 2013. He threw 11 pitches, 9 of them for strikes. After the game, Davey Johnson told reporters, including MLB.com's Bill Ladson, that he was frustrated with Storen because the 26-year-old right-hander had seemed reluctant to throw strikes:
"'I wanted to go to Storen with a four-run lead,' Johnson said. "I want him to go right after them like he has been [doing], but he went out there and walked the first guy. ... He should have let him hit it.
"'I would have left him out there if he had made him hit it. He got behind the next guy, 3-0, got back and threw a bunch of strikes. Sori then told my pitching coach [Steve McCatty] that he was OK, so I went to Sori. I didn't want to. I wanted to stay off him. Storen can be mad at me, but he should be mad at himself, because with a four-run lead, make him hit it, go right after him.'"
Though Soriano threw strikes he got hit again. After a string of six scoreless outings at the end of July and start of August, the 33-year-old right-hander has given up at least one hit and 13 total with two walks and eight earned runs allowed in his last seven appearances and 6 1/3 innings of work, with opposing hitters posting a .419/.455/.742 line against him over that stretch. On the year, the closer who signed a 2-year/$28M deal this winter now has a 3.79 ERA, a 3.91 FIP, 2.14 BB/9 and 6.75 K/9 in 54 2/3 IP over which he's been worth +0.2 fWAR. Last year in New York, Soriano had a 2.26 ERA, a 3.32 FIP, 3.19 BB/9 and 9.18 K/9 over 67 2/3, finishing the year at +1.2 fWAR.
Soriano's average fastball velocity is down from 93.4 mph in 2010 , 92.8 in 2011 and 92.3 in 2012 to 91.3 mph so far this season and he's throwing it less (59.9% in 2012, 30.5% in '13) while using his cutter more frequently (20.1% in 2011 to 55.4% this year after not throwing it last season acc to Pitchf/x). The velocity on his cutter is down too from 91.7 mph and 91.6 in 2011-12, respectively, to 90.3 mph this year. His slider usage is down from 40.1% in 2012 to 14.1% in 2013.
"I'm still concerned about Soriano," Johnson said after the game, "He was also up. But he did make pitches and got some fly balls and got out of the thing."
So who does Davey Johnson turn to tonight if he needs a save?