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Storen stunned after Nats collapse

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Storen stunned after Nats collapse

The protective plastic over the lockers, the cart of champagne bottles, all of it was in place.

All Drew Storen had to do was get one strike.

Twice the Nationals had the Cardinals where they wanted them: two strikes and two outs, a two-run lead.

Full count, two outs on Yadier Molina. He walks. Full count, two outs on David Freese. He walks.

Then, with one 94 mile per hour sinker, the Nationals 2012 season began to unravel before the eyes of the largest crowd in stadium history. Daniel Descalso pelted a ground ball off the glove of Ian Desmond, ricocheting into the outfield and scoring two runs to tie the game at seven.

The next batter, rookie Pete Kozma, then made contact with another hard sinker, this time a line drive single into right field. Two runners scored as the Cardinals took their first lead after trailing for three and a half hours and 26 outs.

What had all night seemed so certain, all of a sudden slipped away.

“We had it right there. Most disappointing honestly, is just to let these guys down,” Storen said after collecting himself in the Nationals’ clubhouse.

“With the amount of adversity we dealt with this year, for it to come down to that is pretty tough.”

The 25-year-old Storen was drafted and groomed by the Nationals for this very situation. He was the best closer in college when they took him in 2009 and saved 43 games in 2011. But Friday night was not meant to be, what could have been the most gratifying moment of his career is now something that will carry with him until next season and perhaps beyond.

“It’s part of the job,” he said. “It’s the best job when you’re good at it and it’s the worst job when you fail.”

“There’s a bad taste in my mouth that’s gonna stay there for a couple of months and it’s probably never going to leave.”

Storen sat at his locker for minutes at a time after the Game 5 loss. First in his game worn under shirt, second washed and fully dressed.

Teammates and coaches took turns walking up to console him, but what could be said? Nothing can take away the time he will spend going over those at-bats, those moments, what could have been.

For Storen’s teammates, they chose to focus on the collective feeling of loss. They were devastated just as he was and, after all, no game is really decided on one pitch.

“I don’t know, I don’t know what to tell the guy,” Kurt Suzuki said. “We’re both feeling the same thing.”

“I really don’t know what we would have done differently, to tell you the truth.”

Storen’s roommate and good friend Tyler Clippard pitched the eighth inning and also let Descalso cut the deficit with a solo home run. Clippard stood up for Storen and took ownership himself.

“Obviously Drew feels bad, I feel bad, we’re all pretty devastated right now,” he said. “I don't think it has any difference who did what in the game, we’re all in the same boat.”

Adam LaRoche, perhaps the team’s 2012 most valuable player, still reveres Storen and his future as a closer.

"He's one of the best in the game. We all know it. And I hope he knows that," he said.

"I think the last three outs are the hardest in baseball, and I don't know why it's so much harder than the other eight innings. But something about it. Crazy stuff happens in that ninth inning.”

Ryan Zimmerman affirmed his confidence in Storen as if he were speaking for the franchise as he’s often asked to do.

“Drew will be fine. Drew went through a lot this year,” he said, referring to Storen’s time on the disabled list after elbow surgery.

“I think Drew is going to be a great closer for a long time. He's going to be our guy."


General manager Mike Rizzo ultimately makes those decisions, but says he's seen enough success from Storen to remain in his corner.

“He’s a terrific young player with a bright future as a closer. He’s already proven he can handle the load,” he said.

On what he hopes Storen can take away from this experience, Rizzo was honest and said probably the only thing the young closer really can do to move on.

“Remember how this feels so it doesn’t happen again.”

Storen remembering what happened is probably the last thing he has to worry about.

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Baker acknowledges Nats need to come through in clutch situations

Baker acknowledges Nats need to come through in clutch situations

Coming through in two-out situations isn’t supposed to be an easy task, but the Nationals are making it look especially difficult of late.

The most recent example of those struggles came in Friday night’s 5-3 loss to the Padres, in which the Nats’ lineup couldn’t get the big knock against 23-year-old right hander Luis Perdomo, a rookie starter who came into the game sporting a 7.36 ERA.

“That’s been our nemesis,” manager Dusty Baker said. “People ask me, you know, what do we need? We need some timely, two-out base hits. Not home runs.”

Indeed, when the Nats score big, it’s usually because they powered their way to get there. They entered Friday tied for first in the National League with 132 homers through 96 games. And even against the Padres, two of Washongton's three runs on the night came via solo shots from Jayson Werth and Daniel Murphy.

So the issue hasn’t been overall scoring, per se. The issue has been scoring in clutch situations without relying on the long ball. Against the Perdomo and the Padres, the Nats went 1-for-5 with two outs and runners in scoring position, including an 0-for-4 stretch after the first inning. That won’t help their season average in that category (.221), which ranked 21st in the majors prior to the game.

So it’s no mystery to Baker about what has to be fixed.

“At this stage of the game, almost two-thirds of the season gone, we gotta make some changes,” the skipper said of the Nats’ two-out approach. “We’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting, and it’s getting frustrating on the guys and frustrating on fans and frustrating to us, too.”

When asked about the Nats' recent offensive woes, Bryce Harper chalked it up to the typical up-and-down nature of the long season. 

"I don't think we need to change much at all,” said Harper, who’s 6-for-20 in those situations on the year. "I think we're a great team. I think we're swinging the bats well.

“Sometimes you line out and get out. Sometimes you hit right into shifts. Sometimes you strikeout, sometimes you walk. It's part of the game.”

Perhaps it is just part of the game. But it is also hard to ignore that the Nats have gone 6-for-41 with runners in scoring position over their last five games, four of them losses. 

But Baker, ever the optimist, believes it won't take long before his team turns it around. 

“I just urge everybody, don’t panic," he said. "Just let us play and we’ll come out of this.”

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Big inning dooms Roark as Nats fall to Padres

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USA TODAY Sports

Big inning dooms Roark as Nats fall to Padres

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 5-3 loss the San Diego Padres on Friday night at Nationals Park: 

How it happened: Perhaps it’s too early to call it a trend, but it sure seems like Nats have had a tough time with west coast teams this season. And after Friday’s loss to the Padres, Washington fell to 3-8 against the NL West.

They can thank Matt Kemp for that.

The Padres’ veteran right fielder got the best of Tanner Roark on this night, tagging him for two home runs — a solo shot in the first inning and a three-run tater in the fifth — which accounted for four of the five runs the Nats’ starter yielded. 

On the flip side, Washington couldn’t solve San Diego rookie Luis Perdomo, who shut down the home team over seven frames after allowing two quick runs in the first. 

The Nats threatened after Perdomo exited, with Daniel Murphy hitting his 19th home run of the season to cut the deficit to 5-3 in the eighth. But they couldn't complete the rally, clinching their fourth loss in the last five games. 

What it means: The Nats fall to 57-40, and pending the result of the Mets-Marlins game, could fall to see their division lead shrink to 3 1/2 games. 

Offense struggles versus Padres’ rookie: To this point in the season, there hasn’t been much about Padres 23-year-old rookie Luis Perdomo that screams “ace”. But after the first inning, the Nats made him look like one as they couldn’t muster much against a guy who came into the game sporting a 7.36 ERA. As a whole, the offense mustered three runs, with two of them coming on home runs. The Nats might be one of the best power-hitting teams in the game, but these are the type of games they need to win when the ball isn't leaving the yard. 

Kemp solves Roark: It’s surprising when the Nats’ 29-year-old right hander isn’t anything but steady, but it appeared the Padres had his number on this night — well, at least Kemp did. Were it not for the two big swings on the night, Roark probably would have pitched deeper into the game. Instead, he could only get through five innings, marking his shortest outing since June 16.  

Felipe Rivero: After a rough early part of June, Rivero has quietly rebounded. He hasn’t allowed a run in his last 10 appearances, striking out 15 over 17 1/3 innings. With so much talk about how the Nats may want to upgrade their bullpen at the trade deadline, it’s easy to forget that the group they have isn’t half bad.

Up next: Washington will look to bounce back Saturday night as it sends Max Scherzer (10-6, 2.94 ERA) to the hill to oppose ex-Nat Edwin Jackson (1-1, 4.76 ERA).

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Solis to join Zimmerman in Potomac, Ross' rehab stint begins Sunday

Solis to join Zimmerman in Potomac, Ross' rehab stint begins Sunday

Nationals reliever Sammy Solis will pitch at Class-A Potomac on Friday night for his rehab assignment, Dusty Baker told reporters Friday afternoon. Barring a setback, the 27-year-old left hander, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list on July 17 with right knee soreness, is expected to return to the team Sunday. 

Solis will join fellow DL-mate Ryan Zimmerman, who notched two hits Thursday night in his first rehab game back from a left rib cage strain. The veteran first baseman will stay in Potomac for the next few games, and if all goes according to plan, he’ll rejoin the Nats in time for the start of their upcoming road trip.

“[Zimmerman] played seven innings last night at first base,” Baker said. “He’s going to DH today. And then he’ll play the first game of a doubleheader tomorrow at first base. Then he’ll be ready to return to leave with us to go to Cleveland.”

Rounding out the injury updates, Baker said that right hander Joe Ross (shoulder inflammation) will make his first rehab start Sunday afternoon, but did not reveal where he would pitch. In the meantime, the club will again need to find someone to start in Ross' place during Sunday's series finale against the San Diego Padres. They've leaned on rookie pair of Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez the last two turns through the rotation, so either of them appear to be a likely option. Baker, however, wasn't ready to show his cards just yet. 

“We will let you know Sunday,” the manager said.