Drew Storen could be the Nationals’ closer as Rafael Soriano rests


(Alex Brandon / AP)

The Nationals have won seven of their first nine games this year, and they expect to win at a similar rate all season long. One byproduct of frequent victory, which the Nationals figure to juggle all season long, surfaced tonight for the first time. Manager Davey Johnson may give closer Rafael Soriano the game off because the Nationals’ winning produced three consecutive save situations, and he closed out all of them.

Johnson did not fully commit to not using Soriano tonight. But he indicated Drew Storen will handle the ninth inning should a save situation arise tonight against the Braves. Johnson held Storen out of last night’s 7-4 Nationals win over the White Sox in order to preserve him for tonight in the event Soriano needs a breather.

“I don’t have a good read on [Soriano] yet,” Johnson said. “But I have that availability. I try to talk to [pitching coach Steve] McCatty about him: ‘[Soriano] just grins. I ask him how he’s feeling. He just grins. He doesn’t say nothing.’ So I don’t know where we’re at on that, to be honest with you.

“He may be indestructible. I don’t know. I haven’t had him long enough to really read. Every time he comes out there, he looks pretty much the same for me.”

Last season with the Yankees, Soriano pitched three consecutive days only twice, and not once did he throw four straight days. While recording those three straight saves, Soriano threw 18, 15 and 24 pitches, a pretty heavy workload, especially Thursday night.

Storen, who posted 43 saves in 2011 and ended last year as the Nationals’ closer, understood he may have the ninth inning Friday night. But he would not change his preparation or approach to the game.

“It’s not any different,” Storen said. “The way I’ve looked at it the whole season is, go get three outs. It just pushes it back an inning. It’s nothing I haven’t done before.”

Johnson said he planned to tell Storen during batting practice whether or not he would pitch in a save situation. But “it doesn’t really matter,” Storen said. Every pitcher in the bullpen, Storen said, starts to prepare around the sixth inning. The relievers understand when they are likely to be deployed, but they don’t need Johnson to specify on a nightly basis.

“It’s like a marriage,” Storen said. “You don’t have to communicate all the time. You just know each other.”

Johnson said he is typically more apt to lean on his closer early in a season, but the schedule has worn on him and when days off are more frequent. In the Nationals’ bullpen, they know Johnson will shift how he uses them.

“When you’re in the bullpen in the general, and when you’re in a bullpen like our bullpen, things can change,” Storen said. “We knew that going into the season. That’s the way Davey does things. Regardless of when you’re going to throw, it’s always going to be in a big situation. The ability to minimize the game and concentrate on what you need to and not worry about that stuff, that helps.”

As for tonight, Storen may be coming in to pitch in the biggest situation, with the game on the line.

“I hope we have that problem,” Johnson said. “I hope it gets to the point where it’s a decision I have to make.”

Adam Kilgore covers national sports for the Washington Post. Previously he served as the Post's Washington Nationals beat writer from 2010 to 2014.
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James Wagner · April 12, 2013