Injury has claimed all of Nationals reliever Drew Storen’s season so far. Now the strong performance of his close friend and roommate, Tyler Clippard, as the team’s closer has put him in an awkward spot. On Saturday, Manager Davey Johnson threw his support behind Clippard as the team’s closer regardless of when Storen returns from injury.
Storen, last season’s closer, reflected on the situation Sunday and said all the right things. He said Clippard has performed well and earned Johnson’s support, and that he needed time to readjust to pitching in games. Yet, Storen, who saved 43 games for the Nationals last season, expressed confidence in his ability to be the team’s closer.
“[Johnson is] supporting the guys that have gotten this team where it’s at,” Storen said. “Tyler has been that guy for two, three years that he’s been here. He’s supporting him and at the same time when I come back I know I’m going to be good.
“I’m going to need to get my feet wet and I think it’d good for the acclimation of it. In the end, I have all the confidence in the world that I can come back and close games.”
Storen has yet to make his season debut because of a bone fragment in his right elbow that was removed surgically in early April. He has made steady progress in his rehabilitation and is still aiming to return around the all-star break in roughly two weeks. On Friday, he faced live batters for the first in months, throwing about 20 pitches, all fastballs.
On Sunday, Storen, who has been with the Nationals, was headed to Viera, Fla. to throw a heavier live batting practice session. He hopes to be back with the team to continue rehab when they’re in Atlanta later next week.
“I’m picking it up all around,” Storen said. “It’s just a matter of getting that last 10 percent. I feel great.”
Since assuming the closer’s role in late May from Henry Rodriguez, Clippard has been a perfect 12 for 12 in save opportunities and allowed only one hit in 13 1/3 innings. If he continues pitching well, Johnson said Storen would have to ease back as a setup man, a role currently filled by Sean Burnett.
Storen, a Nationals first-round pick in the 2009 draft, said he would accept the role he is given. He said it wouldn’t, however, change his relationship with Clippard. When handed the closer’s role in late May, Clippard admitted he had been clamoring for it for three years.
“I don’t think it’s awkward at all really,” Storen said. “It’s business. This doesn’t really matter. Our friendship has nothing to do with baseball.”
Johnson has talked often about having a “B” closer and it seems likely that when the Nationals need a closer and Clippard is overworked, he would call on Storen.
“I know I exactly haven’t had a long career but I feel like I’ve made pretty good contributions in my time here,” Storen said. “I’m confident in my abilities and I’m excited to come back in crunch time and help seal this up ... I know how baseball is. It’s ‘what have you done for me lately.’ Fact of the matter is I haven’t done anything this year. And it’s part of the motivation to get back, because I want to contribute to this team.”