Drew Storen bounces back

(Alex Brandon / AP)

(Alex Brandon / AP)

Earlier this week, Drew Storen’s usage came into question. Two years ago, he saved 43 games for the Nationals and, in back-to-back outings last week, Manager Davey Johnson carefully avoided having him face left-handed batters, against whom he has struggled.

Since then, Storen has logged three scoreless innings, including a performance on Friday that featured perhaps some of his best pitches all season. He entered in the eighth inning of a 2-1 game and walked the leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler. He barely missed on a 1-2 and 2-2 pitch, and a 3-2 change-up was off the plate, putting the speedy center fielder on.

But Storen escaped. DJ LeMahieu popped up a bunt attempt and Storen raced under it to catch it. He tried to double up Fowler at first base. Second baseman Anthony Rendon raced over to cover first but Storen’s throw sailed into right field for an error. (“He needs to work on that little flip pass,” Johnson said with a laugh. “That was awful.”) Storen tore after the ball in right field and Fowler advanced to second safely. Then, Storen rebounded.

He struck out slugger Carlos Gonzalez looking with a wicked 96 mile per hour near-unhittable two-seam fastball that started inside. Entering the game, left-handers were hitting .345 off Storen.

“I was trying to work him in and it ended up coming back over the plate for me and it worked out all right,” Storen said. “Wasn’t really trying to throw it as hard as I could … but maybe I was.”

In striking Michael Cuddyer to end the inning, Storen used three pitches — 96 mph sinker on the inside black, a 89 mph change-up near the same spot and then buried a 85 mph slider away that Cuddyer missed badly.

“You’ve just got to mix up your pitches against those guys because those guys are really quality hitters,” Storen said. “That’s a good spot for them to be in, so you’re trying to mix up your pitches a little bit and get soft contact, and if you miss the bat, you miss the bat.”

“He’s actually pitching more,” Johnson added. “[Somebody] just came to me saying: ‘What was he coming in there throwing Gonzalez change-ups and backdoor sliders?’ I said, I like that. He’s pitching. Everybody knows he throws hard. It keeps him back a little better. And when he did throw the fastball to Gonzalez after a lot of junk up there, it just froze him. I like that … Instead of just going after [Gonzalez] and trying to blow him away, he backdoored, changeup on him and then came in right after him with the inside heater. I like that. That’s the old Drew right there.”

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