In the sixth inning yesterday, Davey Johnson looked out to right field and saw Tom Gorzelanny warming up the outfielder. The next inning, he saw Sean Burnett doing the same thing. It was just wanted Johnson wanted to see. Without any prompting from the dugout, the relievers had started preparing to enter. They knew their role with such clarity that they could basically run the bullpen without the phone even ringing.
The clarity will soon change. Drew Storen is making his first rehab appearance tonight at Class A Potomac in his return from surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow, and he is expected to return to the majors on the first day after the all-star break.
Johnson reiterated that Tyler Clippard, who is 13 for 13 in closing games since he moved into the ninth inning, will remain the closer when Storen returns. But Storen will still need a role in the bullpen, which has been humming with Clippard and Burnett at the back end.
Johnson plans to ease Storen back into the majors, not only because of the physical toll, but the mental adjustment of throwing as a setup man rather than a closer. Storen saved 43 games last year, and now he has a new, less prestigious role.
“I think mental preparation is really important to helping performance,” Johnson said. “When the guys gear up mentally knowing it’s probably going to be them, I think it’s easier to do your job, rather than, ‘Oh, it’s me,’ that kind of deal.
“It’s no different with [Storen]. It was easy for him in the past. He knew that he was going to close, at least while I was here. And the only conversations I had with him was if he needed a day off or something. I like to see how he’s throwing, how he’s feeling if he bounces back. I won’t rush him, give him a little time to get loose, that kind of thing.”
After Johnson said Clippard would remain the closer in Baltimore two weeks ago, he spoke to Storen the next day. Storen could see why Clippard remained the closer — he was pitching too well not to be rewarded. But Johnson also said Storen, once he gets his feet under him again, could give Clippard a break from the ninth if needs it.
“He understood that,” Johnson said. “Clip’s been doing it up here and doing it very well, as good as anybody in the game. Drew was doing as good as anybody in the game last year. … He’ll start out for me seeing how he’s throwing. If I like the way he’s throwing and I feel like he’s able to bounce back, I wouldn’t have any qualms about sliding him in occasionally to take a little off” Clippard.