Manager Jim Riggleman has refrained from naming an outright closer for the Nationals bullpen, but his actions today during the Nationals’ 5-2 victory over the Giants suggested Drew Storen is becoming the undisputed choice with a lead in the ninth inning.
Sean Burnett finished the eighth inning, and in the ninth the Giants had two left-handed batters due up. Riggleman has been deciding on save situations based on matchup, and so it seemed the left-handed Burnett would stay in the game and the right-handed Storen would stay in the bullpen.
But at the beginning of the ninth, Storen trotted into the mound. He allowed only a double while pitching a scoreless inning for his fifth save of the year.
It certainly seems as if the transition to Storen has started. As a team, the Nationals have eight saves. Burnett recorded the first three, and Storen has cinched the previous five. Still, Riggleman did not verbally commit to anyone as his closer, keeping to his vow to not even use the word.
Asked about Storen pitching the ninth today, Riggleman was careful not to anoint Storen the closer, or apply pressure on him that comes with the job.
“What I would really like to do is see how the whole thing unfolds,” Riggleman said. “A lot is going to depend on who’s coming up and all that, the lead that you have, the margin that you have. That changes things a little bit.
“I think everybody in the community wants Drew to be the closer. And I want that. But he’s 23 years-old, and I don’t want him to run out there four days in a row or three days in a row. I want to preserve him a little bit. So I always have to have the option of (Tyler) Clippard and Burnett doing that. The more comfortable I get that we’re going to turn it over to Drew, then it gives me the option to use Burnie earlier in the game, like the seventh.”
The last time Burnett appeared in a save situation, he allowed four earned runs and turned a 3-2 lead into a 6-2 loss. But Riggleman has repeatedly said he thought Burnett pitched well and ran into rotten luck.
Storen said Riggleman had not told him he has the closer job, and “I really don’t care if it is,” Storen said. “I’m just going to take the same attitude. I know Burnie can do the job if it comes down to it. Like I’ve said from the beginning, we’ve got a good mix of guys. It comes down to winning. As long as somebody gets the save, that’s what we want.”
Certainly, Storen has pitched well enough to earn the job. He has allowed one earned run in 15 innings this year, striking out 11 and walking four. After early struggles in spring training, Storen has been dominant over the season’s first month than at any point during his impressive rookie year.
“It’s just concentrating on getting the ball where I want it,” Storen said. ”It’s that never-ending just of having perfect control. It’s about executing the right pitches. I feel lucky going out throwing to [Ivan Rodriguez], because there’s not a lot of thinking that goes on throwing to him.”