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Storen happy to thrive in setup role

Storen happy to thrive in setup role

Drew Storen has pitched in plenty of pressure situations during his three major-league seasons, most of them coming in the ninth inning with his team clinging to a slim lead.

Something about Wednesday night's appearance, though, felt more significant than perhaps any of the 146 previous ones Storen made for the Nationals. Even though it occurred in the eighth inning.

Summoned by manager Davey Johnson to face the heart of the Marlins' lineup with two runners in scoring position and the Nationals leading 6-4, Storen proceeded to retire all three batters he faced and hold that lead heading into the ninth.

Was that an especially big outing for the 25-year-old reliever?

"I think it was," Storen said. "I think the biggest thing for me was I didn't get over-amped. That's kind of the biggest thing that I looked at as the biggest positive. Because it's easy to get in those situations and get fired up ... so it's a step forward for me. I didn't feel like I tried to do too much, and that's kind of the way I look at it."

Nearly five months removed from surgery to remove a bone chip from his elbow and more than a month since he returned to the mound, Storen finally appears to be back to his old self. After battling inconsistent command from one appearance to the next, he's retired all 10 batters faced over his last four games.

"I think he's all the way back," Johnson said.

All the way back, though, doesn't necessarily mean Storen will be given his old job back. With Tyler Clippard continuing to pitch effectively as the Nationals' closer, Johnson plans to keep Storen in a setup role, with perhaps the occasional ninth inning thrown his way if Clippard needs a break.

"This is not diminishing how much I like Drew," Johnson said. "It's just that we've got another guy that's doing a great job, too. There may be a time when I have back-to-back situations for Clip, and I like the way the lineup comes up for Drew. Clippard's tongue may not be hanging out when I let Storen close."

There was a point earlier this summer when Storen admittedly felt he deserved to pitch the ninth inning. He's since come to realize he wasn't ready for that responsibility. And even though he's pitching well enough to close games, he understands he's just as valuable to the Nationals pitching in tense, setup situations like he did Wednesday night.

"You look at a lot of the situations last year, a lot of my saves should have gone to Clip, because he was coming in in situations like that and he would essentially lock down the game, and then I'd kind of just put the icing on it," Storen said. "That's just kind of how it was. That's what happens, even in the seventh, eighth and ninth. A lot of times, the save isn't in the ninth. Sometimes, it's before.

"I always joked with Clip last year: 'Dude, you probably got more saves last year than I did.' That's just kind of how it is, and that's the beauty of having a good bullpen."

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Wilson Ramos' ACL tear devastating news for Nationals, his future

Wilson Ramos' ACL tear devastating news for Nationals, his future

When Wilson Ramos collapsed to the ground clutching his right knee behind the plate at Nationals Park on Monday night, the Nats feared the worst as it was the same leg in which he had his ACL and MCL repaired back in 2012. On Tuesday, an MRI confirmed those fears. Ramos tore his ACL again and is not only out for the entirety of the postseason, but most of next year as well.

It happened in the final week of the regular season with the Nats preparing for the playoffs. It also happened just over a month before Ramos is set to hit free agency for the first time in his career.

There is never a good time to tear an ACL, but one would be hard pressed to find a worse time for Ramos to do it than now.

“This close to playoffs, his option year. There’s never an opportune time, but this was the most inopportune time for this to happen at this point," manager Dusty Baker said.

"It's unfortunate. Wilson was having an All-Star season, really a breakout season for himself. It's disappointing. I feel bad for him," GM Mike Rizzo said. 

Ramos, 29, earned an All-Star nod this year and for good reason. He hit .307 with 22 homers and 80 RBI and emerged as one of the best catchers in baseball.

Now his future hangs in the balance, as it will be much harder to get a lucrative long-term deal in free agency.

Rizzo said it was too soon to know how Ramos can return from re-tearing his ACL.

"He just did it yesterday. We just got the diagnosis. We're going to see what the doctors say and we'll make our assessments after that," Rizzo said.

Baker spoke earlier this year about his hopes for the Nats to re-sign Ramos. On Tuesday he was asked about Ramos' future and alluded to that idea again.

"It’s time for us to, I think as a whole, maybe to take care of him, too, because he’s taken pretty good care of us,” Baker said.

Any decision about Ramos will be made months from now. In the short-term, the Nats have a playoff run to consider as they chase a World Series. In for Ramos will be backups Jose Lobaton and Pedro Severino. Both have filled in well at times this season, but Ramos is leaving big shoes to fill.

“All of our catchers are very good catchers. It’s just that he is not only the top offensive catcher on our team, a big part of our offense, he’s one of the top offensive catchers in baseball. We’ll really miss his offense," Baker said. "I think Loby and Severino can replace (him) on defense, but it’s up to some of the other guys to offset his loss on the offensive side of the ball.”

Lobaton is dealing with a minor right ankle injury, but said he is ready to step in. He was in the starting lineup for Tuesday night's game against the Diamondbacks.

Lobaton is a good friend and longtime teammate of Ramos and spoke to him after the injury was diagnosed.

"He was sad. Anybody can be sad in that moment, in that situation. He’s been playing good all year, doing really good for the team, and now you don’t have a chance to go with the team in the playoffs," Lobaton said. "It’s really sad for me, not only for me but for the team. We’re praying for him and that he can get better soon.”

It won't be easy to move forward without Ramos, but the Nationals have no choice at this point.

[RELATED: X-ray on Bryce Harper's left thumb brings good news]

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Nats' Stephen Strasburg unlikely to be ready for first round of playoffs

Nats' Stephen Strasburg unlikely to be ready for first round of playoffs

It's not looking good for starter Stephen Strasburg to be ready to face the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series next week, according to Nats general manager Mike Rizzo.

The Nats right-hander has been throwing off flat ground as part of his recovery from a right flexor mass strain. But he's running out of time with just over a week to go until Game 1.

"I think it would be kind of pushing it. I think that's fair to say," Rizzo said. With the calendar, it's unlikely that he will contribute in that first series."

Strasburg hasn't pitched since Sept. 7 when he sustained the injury in a game against the Atlanta Braves. It was his first start back off the disabled list after he dealt with right elbow soreness.

Strasburg, 28, made the All-Star team this season and is 15-4 with a 3.60 ERA in 24 starts. Without him, the Nationals will rely heavily on Max Scherzer and Tanner Roark in Games 1 and 2. Game 3 will likely go to either Gio Gonzalez or Joe Ross. The Nats have not determined whether Scherzer will pitch on short rest, but it does not sound like they are inclined to ask him to.

Manager Dusty Baker said on Tuesday it would not be his preference.

“I’d like not to do that on short rest because then what’s going to happen next round and the next round? He’s going to be on super short and then you’re risking injury. The other guys got to do their job," Baker said. "You can’t go to short rest on Max, to me, unless it’s just a dire emergency until late in the playoffs."

If the Nats are to advance to the NLCS, Game 1 would be on Oct. 15.

[RELATED: X-ray on Bryce Harper's left thumb brings good news]

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