In the process of earning save no.18 of 2015 last week against the Chicago Cubs in the nation's capital, Drew Storen gave up a run for the first time in 18 appearances going back to April 21st. It was just the third run Washington's 27-year-old closer has allowed in 24 ⅓ innings on the mound this season. His ERA jumped from 0.81 to 1.16.
Storen's 1.11 ERA is the 4th lowest amongst qualified relievers in the National League. His 1.10 FIP is the NL's lowest, and he's currently leading all qualified relievers in the Senior Circuit at +1.2 fWAR.
His 1.11 BB/9 (3 walks in 24 ⅓) are the second-lowest amongst qualified NL relievers as well. Do you know when Storen last walked a batter? No? That was back on April 28th in Atlanta.
As MLB.com's Andrew Simon noted on Twitter earlier this week, Storen's struck out 23 batters since his last free pass, and he has a 29/1 K/BB ratio since he issued the other two walks he's surrendered thus far this season in an April 12th appearance in Philadelphia.
He's struck out 32 batters total this season, for 11.84 K/9, up from 7.35 K/9 last season and a career mark of 8.49 K/9 through six MLB campaigns.
Storen is throwing his slider more than ever before (35.2%), up from 28.6% last season and 30.7% in his career, while relying less on his fastball (50.0%), down from 53.0% last season and 60.0% in his career.
His K% on the slider is up to 58.8%, up from 36.7% in 2014 and 46.7% in his career.
His slider is well-nigh unhittable thus far this season, with opposing hitters' batting average on the pitch currently sitting at .088, down from a .147 career average against.
Storen has blown just one save this season, back on April 21st against St. Louis, when he gave up two hits and one earned run in a game the Nationals ended up winning 2-1 on a walk-off home run by Yunel Escobar.
He was 4 for 4 in save opportunities before that and he's 15 for 15 since, with a 0.49 ERA and a .154/.191/.185 line against in 18 ⅓ IP since he last blew a lead.
"We're thankful to give him the ball in the ninth inning whenever possible," Nats' skipper Matt Williams told reporters after the first of two saves Storen earned in the Nationals' three-game set in Wrigley Field.
That night, Storen hit the first batter he faced, Kris Bryant, then popped up Cubs' first baseman Anthony Rizzo, got a fly to center from Starlin Castro and threw a 2-2 fastball by Jorge Soler up high for a swinging third strike that ended a 14-pitch frame in a 2-1 game.
"With the exception of the pitch that hit Bryant, which I think [was] a changeup, he threw the slider exactly where he wanted to," Williams said.
"He got ahead with the slider, and was able elevate fastball late on Soler and he's done great."
While the Nationals' bullpen as a whole has experienced ups and downs all season as they adjust to new roles in the post-Tyler Clippard era and work around the loss of Craig Stammen to a season-ending tear of the flexor tendon in his right arm, Storen has been a steady presence in the ninth, locking down wins when he's been handed the ball.
He's also received support from his manager, who told reporters after Storen's one blown save that the one good thing about the outing was that after he blew the save, he got out of the inning and kept it tied.
"He got out of it fairly quickly and he's available tomorrow and if we get in the same situation he'll be in there again," Williams said.
That unqualified support comes just two seasons after Storen was optioned to Triple-A in the middle of a rough 2013 campaign in which he struggled after being shifted to an eighth inning role after Rafael Soriano signed on as the Nats' closer.
Since he returned to the majors that summer, Storen's been pretty much lights out. If he keeps this up, and even if he hits a bump in the road, honestly, he'll likely have to make plans to travel to Cincinnati next month.
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