Drew Storen was dominant in his first five outings after being moved into a set-up role in the Washington Nationals' bullpen following the pre-non-waiver deadline acquisition of closer Jonathan Papelbon.
Storen earned 29 saves in 31 opportunities before Papelbon was acquired, putting up a 1.73 ERA, nine walks (2.23 BB/9) and 44 Ks (10.90 K/9) in 36 ⅓ IP, over which he held opposing hitters to a .212/.271/.250 line.
He reportedly requested a trade at that point, having been supplanted as the Nationals' closer for the second time, with the first time in 2012-13, when the Nats signed reliever Rafael Soriano after Storen's late-inning struggles in Game 5 of the NLDS the previous October.
He threw five scoreless and hitless innings on just 44 pitches, 37 of them strikes in his first five outings immediately after the deal that brought Papelbon in to close, leaving Storen with a 1.52 ERA on the year (7 ER in 41 ⅓ innings pitched) and a .190/.250/.224 line against in 43 appearances to that point.
Things fell apart after that stretch, however, starting with an August 7th outing against the Colorado Rockies in which he gave up a game-tying, eighth-inning grand slam.
Storen ended up putting up a 6.75 ERA, seven walks (3.38 BB/9), 23 Ks (11.10 K/9) and a .233/.325/.425 line against over his final 18 ⅔ IP, including those first five outings, before he suffered a season-ending, non-displaced fracture in his right thumb while slamming the locker in his clubhouse stall shut following a frustrating outing against the New York Mets, in which he gave up a big, three-run, eighth inning home run.
"It's a game of adjustments and his role was adjusted and early on the adjustment worked fine," Nats' GM Mike Rizzo told reporters late this past season.
"He threw great I think the first five or six times that he was setting up for Jonathan," Rizzo explained, "and since then he was a guy that was a little bit inconsistent with his command and with his stuff and just fell into a rut and it seemed like he couldn't get out of it."
In an MLB Network Radio interview this weekend, following his trade to the Toronto Blue Jays, a move which seemed inevitable since Papelbon was acquired, Storen talked about trying to adjust to his new role after he was displaced as the Nationals' closer.
"A lot of it was just making the adjustment going back to the set-up role," Storen explained, "... because, you know, it's not necessarily a mental thing, it's just physical, and for me, you end up throwing so much more in the set-up role -- in deficit games, you're also getting up and getting down, warming up and that takes a toll on you.
"So, even though my velo wasn't dropping, I was missing maybe a couple inches up and you can't do that late in games and I ended up paying for it.
"It comes down to it, when you get challenged in the game ... trying harder is not trying better and so it's just a matter of finding yourself and being true to yourself and not getting too caught up in it."
Though GM Mike Rizzo said since the season ended that he was more than happy to bring both Storen and Papelbon back in 2016, rumors persisted that the Nationals were shopping both of their late-inning arms and on Friday night, they dealt Storen to the Blue Jays.
"Drew and I had a great conversation last night when I talked to him – late last night, by the way," Rizzo told reporters in a conference call on Saturday morning.
"He’s a guy who we drafted 10th in the country and brought to the big leagues fast. He really performed for us. I’ve got a great affinity for Drew. The one thing Drew and I can say honestly is that we’ve had some difficult conversations but we’ve had them eye-to-eye, man-to-man. This is a guy who really cared about the organization and really handled himself in a professional way every single time. I’m proud to say that he’s a product of the Washington Nationals' scouting and player development system and performed admirably for us in the big leagues.
"Wish him nothing but the best in Toronto unless we play him. Then we want to beat him."
"The thing that I appreciate with Mike is that he and I have always had that relationship where we can sit down and talk about things," Storen told reporters on Saturday, as quoted by Washington Post writer James Wagner:
"A lot of things, especially in this game, can be lost in translation. But whenever something came up, we were able to sit down and talk about it and understand where each other was coming from. I sat there and I thanked him because he was the one that stuck his neck out, drafted me high as a reliever, gave me the opportunity to get to the big leagues quick and allowed me to get the ball late in games quick early in my career. Mike gave me that opportunity. I know that things happen in the game but no matter what we’ve always had a straightforward relationship and for me the personal relationships mean more than anything."
In his MLB Network Radio interview, Storen said he wasn't necessarily surprised that he did end up getting traded.
"It's one of those things you just never know," he said.
"There are so many moving parts, there are so many deals you always hear that almost go through and they don't, so for me, the last couple months I've just kind of been in a holding pattern, just preparing. I was fine with going back to D.C., but I was also realistic in knowing that there was a possibility that I would be moved."
His reaction after the trade actually went down?
"First off, obviously, forever grateful for the Nationals for the opportunity that I got with them -- allowed me to get the ball late in the game and it taught me a lot, but getting moved to an organization like the Blue Jays, with the team that they have, I couldn't ask for anything more."