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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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Olympian Katie Ledecky visits Nats Park, players enthralled with medals

Olympian Katie Ledecky visits Nats Park, players enthralled with medals

Before Wednesday's game between the Nats and Orioles, as players, fans and media anticipated the arrival of U.S. Olympic swimming legend - and Bethesda, Md.-native - Katie Ledecky, one National remarked how Ledecky is the 'Bryce Harper of swimming.'

Yeah, in Harper's dreams.

The five-time Olympic gold medalist has accomplished far more in her sport than Harper, or any other Nationals player for that matter, has in theirs. So, in a funny bit to go along with her first pitch, she had Harper escort her to the mound. Ledecky then took off each medal, one-by-one, and handed them to Harper. She then threw a perfect strike to reliever Shawn Kelley.

Yes, it appears there is nothing Ledecky can't do these days. The 19-year-old is now just soaking it all in as she takes just a few weeks off before she begins her preparation for the next Olympics, in Tokyo, Japan in 2020.

"This will probably be the longest break I take in the next four years. It's just nice to be out of the water and recharge," she said.

Ledecky said Harper is one of her favorite players. She spoke with him and his teammates, as well as manager Dusty Baker in the team's clubhouse. A Nationals fan, Ledecky enjoyed seeing them as much as they liked seeing her.

"It was cool. They all wanted to see how heavy [my medals] are and things like that. They are pretty heavy. It was kind of a different feeling for me to have them be a fan of me when I've been a huge fan of theirs for a couple years. I know the Nats played part of my race [on the scoreboard] and that meant a lot to me. To have that support means so much," she said.

Ledecky has some rare free time now and was able to get some practice in before throwing her first pitch.

"I have two neighbors that play baseball and they always get excited when I throw a first pitch, so they always wanted to go down to the park and throw with me. So, I practiced a little bit," she said.

It's still a busy time for Ledecky, who is off to Stanford to begin college later this month. All the while, she's still processing all that she accomplished in Rio.

"Slowly, but surely. I expect it will sink in as we move forward in the next few weeks, once I get back in the pool and start working towards my next goals. You just have to kind of put everything you've done behind you and start working towards the next thing," she said.

[RELATED: Nats fall on wrong side of three challenges by Orioles]

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Nats rotation remains in flux: how Lopez' workload and Giolito fit in

Nats rotation remains in flux: how Lopez' workload and Giolito fit in

The Nationals' starting rotation has been a work in progress ever since Joe Ross went down with right shoulder inflammation on July 3 in a start against the Reds. Since that day, they've tried three different rookies with varying levels of failure and success. Unfortunately for them, it's been much more the former than the latter.

It was already a complicated and precarious situation, and then Stephen Strasburg landed on the disabled list with right elbow soreness on Monday. Even with Ross making progress on Tuesday by throwing a bullpen session, the Nationals starting group is currently a patchwork operation.

This weekend they will yet again have decisions to make as to which rookie starts and when. A.J. Cole is lined up to start Saturday against the Rockies and is likely to do so. Sunday would be Reynaldo Lopez' turn, but Lopez got blasted by the Orioles on Tuesday and lasted just 2 2/3 innings. Like the O's, the Rockies are a tough opponent, no matter the ballpark.

Cole going Saturday and Lopez on Sunday appears to be the plan for now, but Lucas Giolito is another name to watch. The former first round pick tossed just one inning for Triple-A Syracuse on Tuesday night as a plan to set him up for this weekend.

"If necessary," manager Dusty Baker said of the plan for Giolito. "You want him to sharpen up to get some work, but you don't want him to overwork in case we need him. Who knows? We don't think that we will need him right now because of the way [Cole] pitched the other day. That was just in case because you don't know. You don't know until you get to that day and you still don't know what you're going to get come Saturday."

Another factor to keep in mind is the workload of each young pitcher, particularly for Lopez who is already at 127 2/3 innings this season combined between the minor leagues and the majors. His previous career-high for one year was 99 innings, set in 2015. Before that, in 2014, he pitched 83 1/3 innings.

Lopez is already in uncharted territory, but the Nationals aren't close to shutting him down or shifting him to the bullpen.

"That subject really hasn't come up right now, yet," he said. "Do we put too much emphasis in workload, or are we not sometimes overworking them? I think it varies per person. He doesn't look like he's tired to me. Who is to replace these guys? How many replacements do you have if you want to win the pennant? It doesn't work both ways."

Baker, who has been criticized for his handling of young starting pitchers in the past, then explained how the Nats have a lot at stake this season. They will do their best to look out for young pitchers, but also have World Series aspirations in mind.

"It's hard to have it both ways. You try to monitor it, but at the same time you're trying to win. The teams that are in the playoffs a lot, the teams that are in the playoffs a lot in basketball and football, they don't get many breaks. LeBron James and these guys, how many breaks have they gotten from being in consecutive playoff situations? They're playing 20 percent of their season in the playoffs every year. It's hard to have it both ways," he said.

[RELATED: Lopez rocked as Nats suffer lopsided loss to Orioles]

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Tanner Roark starts as Nats look for better luck against Orioles

Tanner Roark starts as Nats look for better luck against Orioles

Nats (73-52) at Orioles (69-56) at Nationals Park

The Nationals didn't have much luck in Baltimore, as they dropped the first two games of their four-game set against the Orioles. On Wednesday, the series tilts to Washington where the Nats return home for the first time since Aug. 14. 

Tanner Roark (13-6, 2.87) will get the start, and it's coming at a good time for the Nats. He's their most consistent pitcher at going deep in games and their bullpen could use some help after Reynaldo Lopez made it just 2 2/3 innings on Tuesday.

Starting for Baltimore will be lefty Wade Miley (7-10, 5.58). Like Lopez, he got shelled in his last outing when he gave up six earned runs in just 1 2/3 innings against the Astros.

First pitch: 7:05 p.m.
TV: MASN
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats - Tanner Roark vs. Orioles - Wade Miley

NATS

CF Trea Turner
LF Jayson Werth
2B Daniel Murphy
RF Bryce Harper
3B Anthony Rendon
C Wilson Ramos
1B Ryan Zimmerman
SS Danny Espinosa
RHP Tanner Roark

ORIOLES

TBA
LHP Wade Miley

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