Drew Storen finished the 2014 regular season with a strong stretch of twenty innings on the mound over which he gave up just one unearned run, walked three batters, struck out 16 and converted 10 of 11 save opportunities.
Storen, 27, saved ten straight games after taking over as the closer for the NL East-leading Washington Nationals and finished his fifth major league season at a career-high +0.9 fWAR, with a 1.12 ERA, a 2.71 FIP, 11 walks (1.76 BB/9) and 46 Ks (7.35 K/9) over 65 games and 56 ⅓ innings pitched.
The streak of ten-straight save opportunities converted ended in Game 2 of the NLDS with San Francisco.
Storen came in with a 1-0 lead, a runner on and two out in the ninth inning and gave up a single by Giants' catcher Buster Posey and a game-tying double by Pablo Sandoval.
The Nationals ended up losing the game in eighteen innings.
Nats' skipper Matt Williams was asked after the game about making the decision to lift starter Jordan Zimmermann when he was one out away from a complete game shutout.
"Drew, since he has been our closer, that is the time to go to him," Williams said, it just didn't work out.
Storen gave up a run in his final appearance of the season, but locked down the Nationals' one postseason win in a 4-1 victory in Game 3 in AT&T Park.
Summing up his second postseason experience, Storen told reporters this winter that it was another learning experience.
"I think the biggest thing is really like you said, the experience," the '09 Nats' 1st Round pick said.
"There [are] so many cliches, there are so many different things you can say, but it's really just being there. Being in those situations."
The way the season ended didn't sit well with anyone from the Nationals, but even that is something you learn from, Storen said.
"It's just part of it," he explained. "You understand, you've been there before and tough taste in your mouth at the end of the year, but obviously it fuels you [for next year]."
Storen was solid all season in 2014, but particularly strong down the stretch.
Asked what in particular he did that made the difference for him, the right-hander said it was something of a change in mindset.
"It's really just kind of simplifying things," Storen said. "Outings went by kind of quick, which was good. You go out there and just kind of attack guys and utilize the defense that you have."
"When I came up, I enjoyed strikeouts as much as the next person, but I really just kind of went to trying to miss barrels more than miss bats."
Not much has changed in the makeup of the Nationals' bullpen this winter, though Rafael Soriano is gone, so as it stands now, Storen seems likely to head into the 2015 season as the closer again.
The vote of confidence he received is important.
"It wasn't anything I was looking for," he said.
"It's just nice to have with the understanding that things can change quickly. It doesn't change my job whether they came out and said, 'We're going to do this Plan A, B, or C. It doesn't matter, I still get ready and do my job."
"Any guy throwing late in the game wants to be closer," Storen said, "but I think, more importantly, to have that vote of confidence from Matt and management in that for me is great. It means a lot. It doesn't change my approach to anything. I'm not going to go out there and try to do anything different than last year."
Storen is right about anybody throwing late in games wanting a chance to close. His teammate, Nats' set-up man Tyler Clippard said as much when he spoke to reporters this winter and was asked if he would like to return to the closer's role at some point after filling it in Storen's absence in 2012.
"I’ve said that from Day One," Clippard said of wanting to work the ninth. "Since before I think the day after I became a reliever, I wanted to close. I think that’s always been a goal of mine and I got a chance to do that in 2012, but I realize the importance of having a collective group. It can’t just be one guy in the ninth that’s going to make a good team or a good bullpen. So, I have perspective on that.
"Doing all the different roles that I’ve had and how some of the innings that I pitched in the sixth and the seventh have been more important than some of those innings I was throwing in the ninth when I was a closer. So, it’s all perspective. You can’t really control when the phone rings and the manager tells you when to pitch. You can’t control that stuff. You just got to go out there and do your job. That’s kind of been my mindset. Obviously, I feel like I can pitch at any time, first through ninth. And, that’s the perspective I have. Saying that it’s just one of those things, yeah, I can close. I can set up. I can do whatever they want me to do, I feel confident in doing it well."
Craig Stammen, who's worked the middle innings and long relief with the Nationals recently, said he figured to remain in that role in 2015, but he too said, jokingly, that he had higher aspirations.
"I've been really contemplating trying to supplant Drew as the closer," Stammen said, "but other than that yeah," he thinks he'll be the right-handed long reliever again next season.
Barring any further additions this winter, it will be Storen who gets the ball in the ninth.