Storen makes debut in Nationals' loss to Cardinals

By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 18, 2010; D01

ST. LOUIS -- The Busch Stadium bullpen gates swung open Monday at 10:24 p.m. EST, and into the major leagues jogged Drew Storen. The Washington Nationals trailed by two, a runner on first base in the seventh inning. Storen climbed the mound, his father watching from the stands, and surprised himself.

"I expected to have jitters," Storen said. "But I was excited. It was surreal. I felt like I was under control."

While Storen prevailed in his debut, the Nationals' continued offensive stagnancy rendered him an unnecessary luxury in a 6-2 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. At some point, Storen will be protecting leads. For now, the Nationals, losers of four straight as they limp toward the end of a nine-game, nine-day trip, lack the firepower to build one.

At least Storen provided a highlight. In the fourth or fifth inning, he started pacing in the bullpen. Manager Jim Riggleman wanted to bring Storen into the game if the Nationals led by a lot or trailed by a little -- "a meaningful situation, but not life or death," Riggleman said. In the seventh, he had his chance.

Storen replaced Doug Slaten in the seventh with one out, Skip Schumaker on first and former Nationals infielder Felipe López at the plate. López lined Storen's second pitch down the left field line, where Josh Willingham made a catch crashing into the wall.

With two outs, Storen drilled Ryan Ludwick on the hands with a 93-mph fastball, putting two men on. Up came Matt Holliday. Storen worked a full count.

This spring training, Storen, 22, made a bus trip to Jupiter, Fla., for a spring training game against the Cardinals. He did not appear in the game, but he later admitted he didn't mind. "It was worth it to watch [Albert] Pujols take batting practice," he said.

And now, if Storen threw Holliday another ball, he would face Pujols -- "Babe Ruth," Riggleman said -- with the bases loaded.

"Luckily, that wasn't something that came to mind," Storen said. "I was concentrating on that pitch."

Holliday popped back a fastball. Storen fired a two-seamer low and inside, and it darted off the plate as Holliday swung over it for strike three. Storen had escaped.

For fans, the performance likely made the night. For the other 24 men in the Nationals' clubhouse, his outing provided little solace. Their offense has been producing numbers better suited for a game of Odds and Evens than winning baseball. In the past four games, the Nationals have scored two, three, one and two runs. On Monday, they didn't have Nyjer Morgan (day off) or Adam Dunn (illness) in the starting lineup.

"It's been a long road trip," Ryan Zimmerman said. "That's not a reason to think we shouldn't be scoring runs."

The Nationals fell behind 4-0 after one inning and Craig Stammen continuing his struggles on the road -- he entered with a 12.19 road ERA. They nearly charged back. The Nationals scored two in the fifth, and in the seventh they gave themselves a chance to tie the score. Ian Desmond led off with his third single of four in the game, which led eventually to the Nats putting men on second and third with one out.

Mike Morse came off the bench to pinch-hit in Stammen's spot. He popped the second pitch he saw to second base, a worst-case scenario. The Nationals still had the tying run in scoring position, and Riggleman sent right-handed Alberto González to pinch-hit against left-handed Trever Miller.

Tony La Russa, ever eager to flex his strategic muscles, pulled Miller for flame-throwing right-hander Jason Motte. Riggleman countered by pulling back González and sending up Dunn, the elite, yet sick, slugger stashed on his bench. La Russa, in effect, chose Motte vs. Dunn over Miller vs. González.

Motte bailed his manager out, and Dunn helped. First, La Russa told Motte, "Don't throw him a cookie." Then Motte capped a seven-pitch at-bat with a 96-mph hour fastball at Dunn's shoulders. Typically one of the most disciplined hitters in baseball, Dunn chased the fastball and struck out.

The Nationals wouldn't again threaten, but at least Storen would provide a sterling side note. After the game, a baseball inscribed with "1st ML K" perched inside Storen's locker.

"That one's going to Dad," Storen said. "He's probably going to put it next to my high school home run collection."

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