In the end, Drew Storen told reporters this winter, the trip to Triple-A Syracuse last season ended up being beneficial. Storen, the Washington Nationals' '09 1st Round pick, had a 5.95 ERA, 13 walks (2.74 BB/9), 43 Ks (9.14 K/9) and a .295/.346/.486 line against him in 42 1/3 IP before he was optioned out.
Storen returned to the majors in mid-August and put up a 1.40 ERA with six walks (2.79 BB/9) and 15 Ks (6.98 K/9) in the final 19 1/3 innings he pitched in 2013, holding opposing hitters to a .200/.263/.214 line over that stretch.
"It wasn't ideal, obviously," the 26-year-old reliever said at NatsFest, "but you can't argue with the results when I came back. So I'm happy with where I'm at right now and I think that's kind of the main thing."
On Wednesday morning in Viera, Florida, Storen threw his first live batting practice session of the spring.
New Nats' manager Matt Williams was watching the reliever as he threw to teammates.
"He's right on [schedule]," Williams said. "Really good slider. Good changeup. Commanded the ball within the strike zone. A lot of guys swinging over it, which is good. Of course, pitchers are ahead of hitters right now anyway, but he looked good."
Storen told reporters at the Nationals' Spring Training facilities, including MASNSports.com's Dan Kolko, that one of his goals as he prepares for the 2014 campaign is working on the changeup he's relied on more and more over the last few seasons. Williams said he liked the reaction the right-hander was getting from hitters with the pitch.
"I liked it," Williams said. "Again, [hitters] don't always know what's coming. And it's early, pitchers are ahead, but nonetheless it had good action, good down action in the zone and guys were swinging and missing it. Which is good. It's a good sign. And the more confidence he gets with it, the more he can use it as a weapon out there which is good for him."
As Grapefruit League games start up tomorrow, the Nationals' first-year skipper plans on working in his late-inning relievers like Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano early in games and right after the starters are done if possible so they can face stronger hitters before late-game substitutions begin.
"Depending on our matchup-type situation within a game," he explained, "I would like to see those guys get in a game as quickly after the starter as they can. But then again, we also have guys we want to look at for lefty vs lefty matchup situations too, so if it stacks that way for the next inning, we may use a lefty as opposed to our later inning guys and delay them an inning. The hope is that they'll get in right after a starter."
As Opening Day approaches, however, the Nats' manager plans on getting them back into the late-game situations they're used to working.
"As we get later in spring I think we'll try to use [the relievers] in those respective roles so they get used to it again," Williams said. "I mean, they've all been out there, they've done it, they know what they're doing, but you want them to also get accustomed to sitting for eight innings. It's not easy if you haven't done it in five months. So towards the end we'll ramp to that to get them into their roles a little bit more."
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Part of the plan in inviting as many players as possible to Spring Training this year was getting Matt Williams a good look at the talent throughout the organization. He said Wednesday that he's gotten a good opportunity to see a lot of the pitchers in the system. "With the amount of bullpens and the amount of live sessions I've gotten a real good look at everybody," he explained. "So that's good. Often times, you're rushed within Spring Training and you don't get to see them as much, but it's been good for me this spring to be able to have multiple sessions I can watch them. So it's good, I'm really pleased with everybody."
Asked if anyone in particular stood out, Williams mentioned 25-year-old right-hander Blake Treinen, one of the three pitchers the Nationals acquired from Oakland last winter in the three-team deal with the A's and Seattle that sent Michael Morse to the Mariners.
"Treinen threw today. And again, it's electric," Williams said of the reliever who features a 96-97 mph fastball. "He's working on his secondary pitches, of course, especially his breaking ball, he's working on. But as a pitcher he's very young. He's still feeling his way through that, but it's electric stuff. It's out of the hand really nice."
Treinen spent most of the 2013 season at Double-A Harrisburg in the Nationals' system last summer, (with a few rehab starts at High-A) putting up a 3.64 ERA, 3.67 FIP, 33 walks (2.50 BB/9) and 86 Ks (6.52 K/9) in 21 games, 20 starts and 118 2/3 IP for the Senators.
Williams also likes what he's seen from 25-year-old, 2010 2nd Round pick Sammy Solis, who's been talked about as an option at the major league level if the left-handers in the Nationals' bullpen falter this season.
"I've seen Sam [Solis]," Williams said. "Saw him this fall. I know him, my son actually was a teammate of his in San Diego, so I've seen him pitch and kind of progress over time. So I'm a little more familiar with him. I know [Aaron] Barrett. I had him in the Fall League. I've been really impressed with everybody's work ethic and the way they're going about it and what they're trying to accomplish out there."