Buried under several layers of sloppy defense ineffectual relief pitching Sunday afternoon was the eighth inning pitched by Drew Storen. He retired all three batters he faced, a lineout by Freddie Freeman and grounders by Brandon Hicks and Martin Prado.
It was the lowest of low-pressure situations, with the Nationals down nine runs in the ninth inning. But Storen took a step in the right direction following his spring funk and the home run he allowed to Alex Gonzalez in his first appearance of the season.
Even before Storen’s 1-2-3 inning Sunday, one National League scout said not to worry about Storen, who for now has been usurped by Sean Burnett as the Nationals closer, despite his 11.12 ERA in spring training.
“His stuff is still there,” the scout said. “Right now, it’s about confidence for him. He got up [to the majors] last season and had nothing but success. He just needs to get back to knowing, ‘I’m going to get these guys out.’ Even that home run Gonzalez hit, it wasn’t a bad pitch. He went down and got it. I couldn’t believe it went out with the swing he took. He’ll be fine.”
Indeed, Gonzalez somehow yanked a low, outside slider over the left-field fence. Last year, Storen’s fastball averaged 94.4 miles per hour, per data collected by FanGraphs.com. This season, in just 1 2/3 innings, Storen’s fastball has zipped on average at 93 miles per hour. That would be a somewhat significant difference across an entire season, but since pitchers are still gearing up in the first, cold days of the season, it seems about right. It will be something to watch if Storen’s fastballs stay in that range.