Washington Nationals' set-up man Drew Storen went through twenty-five batters between walks before he issued a free pass with two outs in Thursday night's game. He stranded that runner, however, and completed a scoreless frame in what ended up a 8-3 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Storen threw a total of twenty-five pitches in appearances in three of the four games against the D-Backs.
Matt Williams called upon the 27-year-old right-hander again on Friday night with the Nationals up 4-1 after seven innings in the series opener with the Colorado Rockies.
"We had the lead, had it set up for our bullpen the way we want to have it set up and the guy that we want in there in the eighth inning for sure," Williams said, after what ended up a 5-4 loss.
The trouble started with a one-out walk to Rockies' pinch hitter Daniel Descalso, when Storen missed with a 3-2 fastball up high, outside to put the .218-hitting batter on.
Storen got the second out of the inning on a fly to center by Charlie Blackmon in the next at bat, but fell behind Jose Reyes, 1-0, and gave up a ground ball single to right that put two runners on.
He started Rockies' third baseman Nolan Arenado with a strike, but gave up an infield single on a swinging bunt toward third that loaded the bases with two down, in spite of the fact that he jammed the right-hander.
Carlos Gonzalez stepped in next.
Colorado's hot-hitting, 29-year-old outfielder was 1 for 3 on the night, and in the midst of a ridiculous run over the last month-plus (39 for 105, .371/.422/.800, 9 doubles, 12 HRs in 28G) that took him from a .241/.304/.411 line on June 30th to a .279/.338/.525 line heading into the series opener in D.C.
Storen, as strong a run as he's been on in recent weeks (14 appearances, 13 ⅓ innings pitched since he last gave up a run), and all season, really, has struggled against left-handed hitters, with a .280/.326/.293 line against in 89 PAs vs LHBs in 2015 (vs a .077/.155/.138 line vs RHBs before last night).
Gonzalez, a career .268/.310/.440 hitter vs left-handed pitchers and .304/.368/.560 hitter against right-handers in eight major league season, has struggled against lefties in 2015 (.167/.216/.211 in 98 PAs), while continuing to mash righties (.317/.378/.631 in 299 PAs).
Was Matt Thornton, who threw a total of 25 pitches in back-to-back appearances against the D-Backs in the previous two games, available?
Felipe Rivero, the other lefty in the bullpen, ended up pitching the ninth. Should he have been warmed up and ready to go in case Storen got into a tough spot with CarGo looming?
Williams stuck with Storen, who started Gonzalez off with a fastball for a ball inside and high at 96 mph, then came back with a 93 mph heater over the middle that ended up bouncing off the back wall of the right field bullpen for a grand slam.
"Base hit, walk, got Arenado to roll over one," Williams said, "but it was just in-between he and Yunel [Escobar] and then the homer.
"So that's pretty much what happened. He's had a very good season for us, tonight just wasn't his night."
"Made a mistake to a guy that's recently been really hot and has power, so it's the game of baseball," Williams continued.
"I think it's a fastball, I just think it's middle of the plate. He had Arenado where he wanted him, threw him a good pitch and he rolled it over, but it's baseball, it's the way it goes sometimes."
Gonzalez told reporters, including MLB.com's Bill Ladson, that he was looking for another fastball after Storen missed with the first.
"I think that pitch set the table," he said. "And I said, 'OK, he might try to do the same thing not to let me extend my arms.' I was just ready. I just threw my hands really quick to the ball and I found the barrel."
"I had a couple of guys get on base for various reasons," Storen said.
"Made one bad pitch and [had] a fastball come over the plate to a really good hitter. It's kind of the nature of the business."
"I'm trying to go in there and instead of just staying in, off the plate," he explained, "it came back over and right into his barrel."
Asked about attacking the power-hitting outfielder and challenging him with a fastball, Storen said he was going after Gonzalez with his best stuff.
"If you are worried about that it's going to happen," Storen said.
"So I'm going in there, I'm attacking him with what I think's best and just trying to get soft contact, and if I would have executed the pitch and it would have stayed where it was that's probably what I would have gotten."
Instead Gonzalez got him, and the Nationals suffered a gut-punch of a one-run loss that left them, after the New York Mets' seventh straight win, 2.5 games back in the NL East with 54 games left to play.