In 2011, Drew Storen endured an abominable first few weeks of spring training. His ERA skyrocketed above 12. He wondered whether his velocity and location would arrive in time for the season. The Nationals, at least briefly, even toyed with the notion of starting him in the minors. After his bad outings that year, he was angry and confused.
This spring has frequently brought foul results for Storen, including a three-run eighth inning against the Astros last night that cost the Nationals a Grapefruit League (read: meaningless) win. Storen’s reaction this year, though, has been different from 2011 in a way that’s telling about his approach. He is calm and self-assured.
“I would be upset if I felt like I wasn’t making progress,” Storen said. And he believes that he is.
Storen’s confidence has not fully pacified his manager. After Storen’s latest outing, which brought his spring totals to 12 hits, five earned runs and two walks in seven innings, Davey Johnson diagnosed what he saw as Storen’s problem.
“Storen, he’s a little too deliberate,” Johnson said. “He’s thinking too much. When you try to be that precise, it’s kind of paralysis by analysis. I want him to just trust his stuff and pitch. He’s got great stuff. He knows how to pitch. Sometimes, he just starts going out there and trying to overthrow the ball. But that’s power pitchers.”
Johnson added that he believed Storen would benefit from his upcoming schedule, when he plans to have both Storen and Henry Rodriguez throw with only one day of rest rather than two days.
For his part, Storen explained this morning why Johnson would consider his approach “overthinking.”
“When I’m out there, I’m trying to get the most out of an outing, other than results,” Storen said. “I’m trying to go, ‘okay.’ During the year, I know what my go-tos are. I know I’m going to go to in a certain situation. Here, you’re trying to look for things other than that. You’re trying to work on a different pitch to throw in a different situation, right? So if a situation comes up this year where I’ve seen a guy so many times, I’m not going to be fooling him – I’m not going to throw him a slider he hasn’t seen before. Why not work on some other pitches?
“My breaking ball works good and my change-up is good now, so I need to work on my fastball command. It was a step forward from the outing before. If you want to say it’s overthinking it, yeah. But I always think a lot during spring training. That’s what you’re trying to get out of it.”
In his first few outings, Storen said, he focused on fastball location and holstered his best velocity. Last night, Storen wanted to crank up his velocity, and by doing so he lost precision, leaving many fastballs high in the zone and over the plate. Storen described that as a natural part of his process – the same thing happened, he said, in 2011 and during minor league rehab starts last year as he returned from elbow surgery.
In 2011, Storen improved at the end of spring, and that season, at age 23, he saved 43 games with a 2.75 ERA. And it’s not like this spring has been a disaster — he has nine strikeouts and two walks, which is a promising ratio.
There comes a time in spring when Storen wants to ratchet himself up to regular season quality, and that time is now. If in his next outing he’s still not locating his best fastball, Storen said, then he would be alarmed and start trying to identify a problem. For now, anyway, he sees no problem.
“You just take a step forward each time,” Storen said. “I feel great physically. I know what I need to do. I’m not out there thinking about mechanics or anything like that. Yeah, I might be overthinking pitch selection. I’m thinking, ‘Here’s what I would throw, but what should I be working on?’ Call it getting cute, call it overthinking. But I want to have other stuff in the arsenal that I can go to.
“I don’t like losing no matter what game it is. There is still a sense of pride when it comes to that. If I was genuinely concerned about my development in the process, that’s when I’d be mad. I get it. I realize after 2011, it just took time to get there. That’s what happened last year. Why not try to learn something?”