Tracee Hamilton - Sports Columnist

Tracee Hamilton: Washington Nationals pitcher Drew Storen makes his debut the right way

In his first big league appearance, Drew Storen tallies no hits, no runs and a strikeout in two-thirds of an inning on Monday night.
In his first big league appearance, Drew Storen tallies no hits, no runs and a strikeout in two-thirds of an inning on Monday night. (Dilip Vishwanat/getty Images)
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By Tracee Hamilton
Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Drew Storen has done it right since the day he was drafted. He wasted no time in signing a deal, then headed right for the Washington Nationals' minor league system so he could begin mowing 'em down and learning the ropes. He jumped three levels last summer, made the final step to Class AAA this year, and joined the Nats in St. Louis on Monday, just in time to make his major league debut against the Cardinals.

Yes, the Nats lost, but Storen will have to get used to that. Even his presence, and the impending arrival of friend and teammate Stephen Strasburg, will not stop the Nats from losing games. That's not a knock: They'll lose fewer this season than last; they are most definitely much improved; and The Plan -- the brainchild of President Stan Kasten and General Manager Mike Rizzo -- is working.

Storen also had a plan. From the day he was drafted, he has been focused on this moment, making it to the majors. So how was it?

"It's weird because people keep asking: 'How do you feel? You accomplished your dream,' " he said Tuesday by phone from St. Louis. "I don't know how it feels because I can't wrap my head around it. It's so big. For such a long time I've wanted it; that when it happens, you don't know what to do. I just kind of sit back and take it all in."

Storen's friends were quick to offer the 22-year-old their reviews and advice.

"All my friends are like, 'Dude, your jersey looks huge on you,' " Storen said, laughing. He wore No. 58, which he acquired in spring training. He doesn't have a particular number he'd like.

"I don't really care too much," he said. "The only time I care about numbers is if one makes me look skinny. In high school, I wore number one.

"It's like cooking. I'm not worried about the results, it's all about the presentation. Look good, feel good, throw good."

Then he laughed again. "Nice English. Stanford will be so proud."

A confident extrovert, Storen wouldn't break a sweat in the spotlight of great expectations. But instead it's been shining on Strasburg, an introvert who doesn't revel in the glare.

While fans, and members of the media as well, have studied Strasburg's every move -- examining his pitches, his form, even his hitting -- Storen has gone about his business. He got to know Strasburg in the Arizona Fall League, and they've been together much of this season. Both started the year at Class AA Harrisburg, with Storen getting bumped to Class AAA Syracuse a little ahead of his friend.

Now Storen's arrived ahead of him again. That's not merely a reflection of the caution the team is showing in its handling of Strasburg -- a sensible caution, the Nats are doing it right -- but also a reflection of Storen's talent. He flew from low A to high A to AA ball last summer, in part because his quick signing allowed him to do so.

He began this season at Harrisburg and spent just six games at Syracuse before Sunday night's call-up. He departed the minors with a 2-1 overall record and a 1.68 ERA in 41 games at four levels. Of those, he finished 28, with 15 saves. He walked 11 and struck out 64.

This season's numbers: a 1.08 ERA in 16 2/3 innings, 3 walks, 15 strikeouts and 4 saves. How were the Nats going to keep him down any longer?

They weren't. They called him up Sunday and put him in Monday, just the way it ought to be done. He made his debut at the new Busch Stadium, fitting because he attended his first major league game at old Busch Stadium. Growing up in Indiana, he was about the same distance from Chicago, Cincinnati and St. Louis.

"We'd usually make the extra hour or so drive just to come here because of the venue and the crowd was so awesome," he said. "It's such a baseball town. We always made sure to come here."

There was one out and a runner on first in the seventh inning when Storen entered. He got Felipe López to line out but hit Ryan Ludwick with a pitch. That left two on, two out and Matt Holliday at the plate. With a full count, he got Holliday swinging. Storen's line: two-thirds of an inning, no runs, no hits, one strikeout. Seven of his 13 pitches were for strikes. For at least one entire day, his big-league ERA will be 0.00.

The strikeout was well-timed; Albert Pujols was on deck. Was that worrying Storen? Hardly. He was focusing only on the hitter at the plate.

"You kind of trust the reason why you're there," he said. "Worrying about the fact that there's a lot more people in the stands, who's up, who could hit, I didn't even worry about that.

"I didn't realize Pujols was on deck and if I had walked Holliday he'd have come up with the bases loaded until [Washington Post reporter] Adam Kilgore asked me after the game."

Now that the major goal is achieved, Storen will begin to worry about the smaller stuff: a place to live, getting his possessions and his car from Syracuse, finding a way to get to Nationals Park in the meantime, planning for his mother's arrival in Washington this weekend, when the Nats return home for a series against the Mets.

"I'm excited to go to the field today because I feel like I can experience it more today," Storen said. "Yesterday was so wide-eyed, a try-not-to-screw-everything-up kind of day.

"I'll use the plane flight tonight to figure out the rest of my life."

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