Storen's struggles continue
Relievers probably don't get enough credit when they pitch well and take too much heat when they struggle, but every one of them knows it all comes with the territory. Pitch one inning every other day, usually in high-leverage situations, and it's only natural that everything will be magnified.
And right now, the magnifying glass is hovering directly over Drew Storen's head, exposing every imperfection during what has been an inconsistent two months for the 25-year-old right-hander.
After surrendering the two decisive runs Saturday night during the Nationals' 5-3 loss to the Phillies, Storen finds himself with numbers uncharacteristic of the first 2 1/2 seasons of his career: a 5.21 ERA, three blown saves, 33 baserunners in 19 innings. And he knows past success doesn't overshadow recent struggles.
"It doesn't matter how long you've been doing this, or what you've done in the past," he said. "It's: 'What have you done for me lately?' I haven't done a whole lot. So I'm gonna be unhappy about it regardless, and it's gonna be fixed."
To be sure, there were other reasons the Nationals lost this game, most notably a significant lack of clutch hitting. Despite rapping out 11 hits and drawing four walks, they managed only three runs, going 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position and stranding 11 men on base.
"It's baby steps," said shortstop Ian Desmond, who stranded two of those runners in scoring position. "We haven't been swinging the bats really at all, so to put up 11 hits is good. The next thing we tackle is hitting with runners in scoring position."
But Storen's latest laborious inning of relief stood out at night's end, because it continued a downward trend for the former closer-turned-setup man.
Summoned by manager Davey Johnson to pitch the eighth inning of a 3-3 game, Storen got a quick out on Freddy Galvis' drag bunt attempt but then put himself in a jam by walking Michael Young on five pitches. He bounced back to strike out Ryan Howard looking at a slider, leaving himself one out from escaping the inning unscathed ... only to victimized again by a two-out rally.
Delmon Young delivered the go-ahead hit, a groundball single just over first base that rolled down the right-field line and managed to score Michael Young all the way from first base. It wasn't necessarily a well-struck ball, but it was well-placed, something that has happened to Storen more than he'd like this season.
"I mean," catcher Kurt Suzuki shrugged, "grounder through the hole in San Francisco [on Wednesday]? Inside-out groundball over the first base bag by a right-hander? What are you going to do?"
With one run already across the plate, Storen did put his team in an even bigger hole moments later, leaving a first-pitch sinker to Domonic Brown up in the zone and watching as it was slugged to right-center for an RBI double.
"It's just location," Johnson said. "It's always, at this level, location. You get by on stuff just a little while. You just have to make good pitches. Walking a guy, that's the death toll there. That's been a little bit of his problem. I think he's put a lot on it and try to just get ahead and get fine. We sure need him."
Indeed, the Nationals can't afford to lose complete faith in Storen, who while seeing his role diminish still is being counted on to effectively set up new closer Rafael Soriano. Johnson admitted before the game he's had a difficult time setting up everyone's roles in the bullpen, perhaps contributing to some pitchers' woes.
Storen, though, wouldn't blame his struggles on that.
"Doesn't matter," he said. "At this point, I'm going out there, I'm pitching. Doesn't change my job if we're up by 100 and I'm pitching. I still need to make pitches and not leave balls up in the zone."
Can the Nationals afford to continue using Storen in those high-leverage, late-inning spots?
"He likes to throw a lot," Johnson said. "He's more effective the more he pitches. But I mean, we're in a pennant race. There's not a lot of easy spots out there. I don't think he's intimidated by anything late in the ballgame. Your confidence can get shattered a little bit when you don't have the success you want. But he's certainly capable. He just needs to get going."