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Storen not all the way back yet

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Storen not all the way back yet

At various points over the last few weeks, Davey Johnson has noted Drew Storen looks like he's all the way back from the elbow surgery that sidelined him for the season's first 3 12 months.

Storen, though, isn't quite all the way back yet. He's had his moments of dominance, but he's also had the occasional stinker, as was the case late last night in San Francisco.

Handed the ball by Johnson for the bottom of the eighth inning, with the Nationals trailing 2-1 and trying to give themselves a chance at a late rally, Storen instead turned a tight ballgame into a lopsided loss. He gave up four runs while retiring only one batter, his worst outing to date this season.

Storen hadn't been charged with a run in nearly a month, not since he contributed to the Nationals' July 20 implosion against the Braves, turning a 9-0 lead into an 11-10 loss. But he'd had several more shaky outings since, perhaps setting the stage for something like this to happen.

Over his last seven appearances (spanning five innings) Storen has issued six walks. That's a staggering high total for a reliever who in his first two big-league seasons walked only 2.9 batters per nine innings.

This shouldn't come as a huge surprise, though, because it's all part of the 25-year-old's full recovery from surgery to remove a bone spur in his elbow. As is almost always the case with pitchers returning from surgery to either their elbow or shoulder, command is the last piece of the puzzle. And inconsistency usually reigns.

One night, Storen has been able to locate on a dime, such as Sunday's appearance in Arizona when he needed only nine pitches to record three outs. The next, his off-speed stuff appears to have too much movement, so much so that he can't control it.

It's still going to take some time for Storen to get that pinpoint command all the back and to be able to count on it from game to game. That's why Tyler Clippard remains such an important member of the Nationals' pitching staff, and that's why Clippard will remain their primary closer for the foreseeable future.

Would Johnson like to get Storen back into closing situations, to the point where the manager feels comfortable using him in the ninth inning of a key pennant race game? Absolutely.

But in order for that to happen, Storen is going to need to get some more work in less-demanding situations. He's still working things out, getting a feel for all his pitches, and the best time to accomplish that is when there's no pressure.

Storen will close more games before this season is over. And he might very well re-assume the ninth inning role from his teammate and roommate.

But for now, the Nationals are wise to stick with Clippard, a reliever who's already in midseason form while Storen still deals with kinks he'd normally try to work out in spring training, not in mid-August for a first-place club.

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Nats react to bizarre play when ump hit by wild pitch in loss to Rockies

Nats react to bizarre play when ump hit by wild pitch in loss to Rockies

In the eighth inning on Sunday, when Koda Glover's 96 mile per hour fastball sailed past Wilson Ramos' glove, Ramos heard a sound behind him and it was loud. That ball hit something and it wasn't the backstop. Ramos knows that sound. This was different.

He turned and saw home plate ump Mike Muchlinski on the ground. Muchlinski had fallen to his knees in pain, having taken a direct shot to his left shoulder.

"I knew it was a very hard thrown baseball. I heard the impact and it was very, very hard and loud," Ramos said through interpreter Octavio Martinez. "Based on the velocity of the ball, I knew it had impacted him pretty hard. The reaction I did was just to make sure the umpire was okay."

Ramos then realized the play was live, that the ball had ricocheted to the backstop, that Rockies shortstop Daniel Descalso had taken off from second and was on his way home.

"When I looked for the ball, I looked in the wrong direction because I didn't find it," Ramos said. "I turned around and couldn't find the baseball right away, so I felt a little lost in that sense."

Descalso would score on what was ruled a wild pitch. Muchlinksi remained behind home plate to call the rest of the game. But the Nats had allowed an insurance run that came in handy for the Rockies later on, especially after Bryce Harper hit a solo homer in the ninth to make it a 5-3 game. 

"That would’ve been a one run game, a different story. The ball hit the umpire. Willie was concerned about the umpire. The batter kept running, Baker said. "I guess in essence you got to go get the ball then come back and see how he is. I’ve never seen that play before."

Technically, the play falls on Ramos, who should have tracked the ball to the backstop and retrieved it. He was the only one who had a chance at it. Glover was too far away, as was first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. 

Glover, though, took ownership of the original mistake, the errant pitch.

"Me and Ramos got crossed up. I thought he put down a different pitch. it's on me, I squared the umpire up. Honestly, I don't know how that run's able to score. At most, I thought he'd be told to got to third. But that's just baseball," he said.

Given Baker - who has been in MLB for six decades - had never seen such a play, it's no surprise that Glover, a rookie, hadn't either. 

They may never see it again. For Ramos, though, he'll have to keep it in mind moving forward and hope the result is different next time, if there is one.

"I honestly don't know what the umpires could have done in that situation," he said. "I really don't know what they could do in that situation. It's really hard."

[RELATED: Giolito decent, but Nats offense falls short in loss to Colorado Rockies]

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Lucas Giolito's velocity remains down, but he and Nats aren't worried

Lucas Giolito's velocity remains down, but he and Nats aren't worried

Through Lucas Giolito's first four big league starts, there has been something noticeably off from what we've seen and heard over the years about what makes him one of the top prospects in all of baseball. His fastball is supposed to sit comfortably in the high-90s and occasionally touch triple digits. From his arm angle at 6-foot-6, and countered with his hooking curveball, his fastball was a big reason scouts say he has superstar potential.

He could very well still become one of the game's best pitchers, but the Nats' rookie remains a work in progress and his fastball is currently nowhere near as fast as it once was. On Sunday against the Colorado Rockies, Giolito sat consistently around 93 miles per hour. That's not bad at all, but it's a far cry from the prodigious speed he used to have.

We've heard manager Dusty Baker offer his theories and so far he's downplayed it as not being a concern. On Sunday, we heard for the first time from Giolito himself on the subject, as well as from his opponents.

Here is what Giolito had to say:

"I can pitch at 93 if I’m hitting my spots and mixing up well. I think I left way too many fastballs up over the middle of the plate. Those are the ones that got hit pretty hard. So, the velocity I don’t think is a huge deal as long as I’m pitching the way I should be pitching."

Rockies star third baseman Nolan Arenado, who homered and landed an RBI single off Giolito, offered his take on the velocity dip.

"The reports you read about him say he throws about 95, 97. Those are the reports we saw and on video. It wasn't that," he said. "It doesn't matter. His length, the ball kind of gets on you, has a little jump to it. He's so tall, so big. It's not a comfortable at-bat," Arenado said.

Rockies manager Walt Weiss said that despite the results and the velocity, he can see why there was so much hype around Giolito.

“The future is bright, for sure,” Weiss said. “Big kid, big time arm. He showed a really good breaking ball and threw some good changeups to go with a power fastball. I have heard a lot about him, going back to when he was in high school, and for good reason."

Giolito remains a big part of the Nats' future plans, but at this point in his career he is a raw talent. He's still building confidence with his changeup and working on the command of his curveball. And now he's trying to learn how to pitch with a fastball that's not as lethal as it once was.

That's a tough situation for a young pitcher who doesn't have the experience a veteran would have to draw from.

"I’ve been pitching a lot better [at Triple-A] and figuring some stuff out. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to execute on a few pitches today," Giolito said after Sunday's 5-3 loss. "The only thing I can do is continue to work and try to get better about living down the zone, getting ahead of guys, and then throwing all my pitches for strikes and putting guys away."

Giolito still showed promise on Sunday with a career-high five innings pitched. But the swing-and-miss stuff that he's shown over the years as a prospect has yet to follow him to the majors.

"We haven't seen it yet at the major league level," Baker said. "His fastball is relatively straight, so you've gotta locate it well. Hopefully it will get better."

[RELATED: Giolito decent, but Nats offense falls short in loss to Colorado Rockies]

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Giolito decent, but Nats offense falls short in loss to Colorado Rockies

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Giolito decent, but Nats offense falls short in loss to Colorado Rockies

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 5-3 loss to the Colorado Rockies on Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park.

How it happened: Given the circumstances of his start and the lineup he was facing, the Nationals couldn't have asked for much more than they got from 22-year-old rookie Lucas Giolito on Sunday against the Rockies. It wasn't his fault their offense couldn't manage much of anything against Chad Bettis, who took the mound with a 5.29 ERA.

Giolito stared down the best lineup in the National League and made it a career-high five innings with four runs allowed. He gave up six hits and two walks, including a pair of home runs. One was by Charlie Blackmon, the other by Nolan Arenado, who also tripled.

It wasn't the greatest outing, of course, but the Nats have certainly seen worse both lately and against the Rockies. They didn't give him nearly enough support and only scored three runs on the day, all on solo homers.

Trea Turner led off the game with his fifth home run of the season. Wilson Ramos smacked his 20th to lead off the seventh. That gave Ramos a career-high 69 RBI on the year. And Bryce Harper hit his 23rd in the bottom of the ninth. For Harper, he has now reached base in all 15 games since coming back from his neck injury.

The Rockies got another run off reliever Koda Glover. He allowed a one-out double to Daniel Descalso in the top of the eighth. Descalso then scored from second on a wild pitch that drilled home plate umpire Mike Muchlinski in the left shoulder. The ball bounced off the backstop and Ramos turned to check on the ump. That, in part, allowed Descalso to score on what was an all-around bizarre sequence.

The Nats' offense got six hits and a walk off Rockies pitchers. Ben Revere, Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman went a combined 0-for-14.

Washington lost their second straight game and have now dropped six of their last eight overall.

What it means: The Nationals fell to 75-55 on the season and lost their first home series since July 22-24 against the Padres. The Marlins lost on Sunday, so the Nats' division lead remains at eight games. The Mets are just behind them at 8 1/2 back after pummeling the Phillies.

Giolito okay, but questions remain: Giolito again saw his fastball top out at around 93-94, which is fine but nowhere near the high-90s and triple-digit heat that helped make him the top prospect in all of baseball. Manager Dusty Baker has been asked about this several times this season and has yet to give a full explanation as to why the team thinks he has lost so much velocity. Baker doesn't seem concerned about it one bit, but it does seem like at least somewhat of a big deal if he's lost, say, five or six ticks off his most oft-used pitch.

Turner sets franchise record: In the same week Turner tied the franchise mark for hits in consecutive plate appearances, he became the sole owner of first in Nats/Expos history with 27 runs in one month as a rookie. His 27th came on his solo homer, which was one of two hits for him on the day. He now has 20 multi-hit games this season in 41 total outings. 

Turner, in fact, has six multi-hit games in a row, which ties the longest streak in MLB this season. Six other players have done that this year. Turner's homer, though, gave him just his first RBI during that stretch, which goes to show how much the bottom of their lineup has struggled in recent games. 

Zimmerman keeps struggling: After looking good initially when he returned from the disabled list on Aug. 20, Zimmerman has fallen back into a major slump. He went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts on Sunday and is now just 1-for-20 with seven strikeouts in his last five games. That one hit was a single and he has no walks during that span. Zimmerman's season OBP has dropped to .276, the lowest it's been since Opening Day.

Up next: The Nats hit the road to play at the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday night. First pitch is at 7:05 p.m. with Tanner Roark (13-7, 2.99) and rookie Jake Thompson (1-3, 9.78) set to square off.

[RELATED: Harper explains ejection vs. Rockies: 'It's not a strike']

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