The wild swings of Drew Storen’s career continued this afternoon in the Nationals’ clubhouse as he sifted through the cardboard boxes in front of his locker. Wearing a buzz cut and a gray, three-quarter sleeve shirt, Storen adjusted back to a big league clubhouse, back to what felt “normal,” he said. Craig Stammen walked past, shook his hand and said, “Glad you’re back, man.”
Before last night, Storen had been picked in the first round of the draft, reached the majors in less than a year, saved 43 games in one season, underwent elbow surgery, occupied the mound for one of the worst collapses in playoff history, lost his closer ‘s job and been demoted. Then he received a call from Tony Beasley, the manager at Class AAA Syracuse telling him about the next chapter: He was going back to the majors, replacing struggling Ryan Mattheus in the Nationals’ bullpen after three weeks of regrouping in the minors.
“I can’t really control or change what’s happened this year,” Storen said. “But one thing I can do is really be productive here at the end and help this team win. I’m excited to get back. I’m pretty damn happy about it, to be honest with you.”
The Nationals sent Storen to Syracuse on July 26 after his ERA in a season spent adjusting to set-up relief ballooned to 5.95. Tyler Clippard, his close friend, lashed out of the Nationals for their handling of him. Storen called the support a “silver lining.”
“He needed a change of scenery just to get back to being Drew,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “There was too much going on about when he pitched and all that stuff.”
Storen spent three days in Washington getting over the flu – “a forced relaxation,” Storen said. Once he arrived at Class AAA, Storen eliminated his stiff-legged delivery and switched back to the standard leg kick he used when the Nationals drafted him with the 10th overall pick in 2009. Storen watched old video himself and also studied clips of Tim Hudson’s motion
“I just went back to what I did,” Storen said. “That’s why I was able to do it quick. It wasn’t too crazy. It was going back to how I pitched for 20 years.”
Storen feels more athletic with the leg kick. His worst flaw may have been his inability to prevent stolen bases. He now takes 1.3 seconds to deliver the ball to the plate, Johnson said, which is a significant improvement from the untenable 1.8-second time he had prior to being sent down.
Storen’s altered motion also allows him to command the ball better. With his stiff front leg, Storen had to focus on raising his arm slot in order to throw the ball on a downhill plane.
“The thing I like about my leg kick is, it automatically gets my arm up,” Storen said. “It just happens. I felt like I had to worry about getting on top of the baseball. I don’t have to do that when I have my leg kick.”
Storen returned because Johnson wanted another option in the bullpen after recent struggles getting the ball from the starter to Clippard and Rafael Soriano. Last night, Johnson counted on giving Clippard and Soriano a night off once the Nationals took a five-run lead. But Ian Krol surrendered a home run to Brandon Belt, and Ryan Mattheus allowed all three runners he faced to reach base. Johnson needed to call on Clippard to rescue the Nationals.
Krol has punched up a 4.50 ERA since July began while allowing six of seven inherited runners to score. Since Mattheus came off the disabled list July 26 – the same day Storen was optioned – he has allowed seven earned runs in 6 2/3 innings. Johnson said Storen will pitch in late-inning situations.
“For us to win a bunch of games, I need that late-inning stopper,” Johnson said. “Mattheus since coming back, his pitches and command have not been as sharp as they were prior to him slamming that locker. For immediate need, I need somebody that at least knows he can do it. I got to have some shot in the arm out there.”
The minor league life made Storen appreciate the majors even more. He burst out laughing when asked the difference between the two. In Buffalo, he bought pizza for the whole team because the home team forgot to provide a spread. Storen liked the guys in Syracuse, but “these are my friends,” Storen said.
The Nationals still have Tyler Moore and Danny Espinosa in Syracuse, trying to make the return Storen just did. “Tyler’s going to be back here soon,” Johnson said. “Of that group, he handled it the best.”
Storen will start the next phase of his career today. At 25, has already savored so many good moments and endured so many painful twists. What else is left?
“We still need the World Series,” Storen said. “Do that this year, and we can really have a good story, right?
“That’s what makes you better. It’s part of it. I’m here. I’ve got a jersey, and I’m here.”
More to come.