The Nationals’ bullpen, a weakness as the season moves past the quarter pole, was at the heart of another loss.
“He’s not been where we want him to be,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “He’s not locating like he usually can. . . . I gotta have him. He’s important to our bullpen. That is a situation where I’m counting on him to do it.”
The loss stung even more because the Nationals’ offense, which has endured dormant stretches, came back twice to forge a tie. But what stood out was the handful of squandered opportunities. The Nationals stranded 11, including two in the eighth that reached with no outs.
Storen has surrendered runs in four of his past seven outings, including two blown saves. Against the Phillies, he benefited from a wacky defensive play from second baseman Steve Lombardozzi, who misplayed a grounder but ended up knocking the ball with his knee to Adam LaRoche for the first out of the eighth.
Storen then walked Michael Young before striking out Ryan Howard looking with a wicked backdoor slider. Right-handed Delmon Young, 0 for 2 with two strikeouts in the game to that point, ripped a single down the right field line, far enough from Bryce Harper to allow the racing Michael Young to score. Domonic Brown followed with a double to center, pushing the Phillies’ lead to 5-3. Erik Kratz fouled out to end the inning, and Storen walked slowly off the mound into the dugout, his ERA up to 5.21.
“Left some stuff over the plate that found its way over there,” Storen said. “Just found some holes. Just giving up too many hits and you can’t do that late in the game.”
Johnson has feared that his unsettled bullpen could affect performances. With Ryan Mattheus on the disabled list with a broken hand, some roles are being adjusted. Storen dismissed that as an excuse for his struggles.
“It’s not a confidence thing,” Storen said. “It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing this or what you’ve done in the past. It’s what have you done for me lately? I haven’t done a whole lot. So I’m gonna be unhappy about it regardless, and it’s gonna be fixed.”
Added Johnson: “He’s got worlds of confidence. Again, it’s just making pitches. He was unbelievable in ’11 [when he saved 43 games] in making his pitches. And now he’s trying to right the ship and trying to do too much and not trusting his stuff as well as he should.”
Starter Dan Haren kept the Nationals in the game by giving up three runs over six innings and striking out a season-high 10. Two solo home runs in the second and a run surrendered in the fifth inning put the Nationals in a hole. LaRoche’s homer in bottom of the fifth inning tied it at 3.