As Drew Storen jogged to the mound Thursday afternoon, the smattering of fans who remained at Nationals Park recognized the importance. Storen had spent the first 89 games recovering from surgery to remove a bone chip from his right elbow. The Nationals trailed the Mets, 9-4, but the ninth inning suddenly had meaning. They rose and cheered.
“It was pretty emotional to me, to be honest with you,” Storen said. “It felt great to get the ovation from the fans. It really means a lot. It really kind of makes those three or four months seem a little bit shorter.”
In his season debut, Storen set the middle of the Mets’ order down in order in nine pitches, showing off a new twist with his fastball and inducing two groundouts and a flyout. Last year, Storen saved 43 games and became accustomed to the pressure that accompanies being a closer. Thursday, as he ran in from right field he felt the same kind of adrenaline, but for much different reasons.
“It’s hard to explain,” Storen said. “But it was honestly one of the best feelings in the world. To have fans appreciate you being back out there. I went out there and picked up the ball and just kind of took a breath and said, ‘This feels really good.’ ”
With his first pitch, Storen unveiled a new-and-improved sinker. The 93-mile-per-hour darted down and to the right, moving with more depth and action than his sinker from last year. Wright pounded it into the ground to third base.
“That’s actually something I’ve been working on, something I feel has improved a lot. Last year, I had good movement on my two-seam when I did throw it. But it faded. Now I feel like I get a little more depth to it.”
Of his nine pitches, Storen threw the sinker seven times and threw no four-seamers. In his final few rehab outings, he got the feel for the sinker and realized it could work against major league hitters. The sinker should compliment his slider, giving him one hard pitch that breaks left and another than breaks hard right.
“You see the best guys in game throw that pitch that’s the same for 58 feet and then it goes one way or the other,” Storen said. “It’s all about tricking the hitter and trying to have a little deception.”
Storen induced another groundout with his sinker against Nieuwenhuis, and Bay sent a flyball to deep right-center field to end Storen’s outing. “I thought he was a little rusty, but he threw strikes and they certainly weren’t centering on them,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “I was real pleased. I was figuring he was going to throw a bunch of pitches first time out.”
Storen’s first outing back came in a low-pressure situation, just as Johnson planned. After months in Florida and weeks of moving through the minors, Storen had finally ended his recovered and come back to where he belongs.
“It’s not that you take your health for granted,” Storen said. “But it makes you appreciate being healthy and being out there, putting that jersey on, just getting out there on the mound and facing some of the best hitters in the world.”
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