Drew Storen working on fastball during second spring with Nationals

"I still think it's awesome, but I don't have the wide-eyed, overwhelming feeling as much," said Nationals reliever Drew Storen, entering his second season in the major leagues. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 11, 2011; 6:22 PM

VIERA, FLA. - Two weeks ago, as he sometimes does in order to study his mechanics, Drew Storen queued up film of himself pitching in college at Stanford. He laughed at some of the pitches batters swung at and missed. "That's a home run in the big leagues," he said aloud as he watched.

Storen felt as though he were watching a different person. It is difficult for him to fathom that the skinny kid wearing a straight-brimmed red hat was him less than two years ago. "If you look at where I am now to where I am in college," Storen said, "you would think I was four or five years out."

As Storen spoke, another reminder of his maturation rested nearby. On the table he was sitting at, there was a picture of Storen from last year, tipping his cap on opening day and wearing a Harrisburg Senators uniform.

In the past year, Storen has turned from an overwhelmed rookie in his first major league camp to a core piece of the Washington Nationals' bullpen, potentially the closer. Throughout last year - "a whirlwind," he said - he moved from Harrisburg to Syracuse to Washington and packed years of baseball education into months.

When Storen arrived at spring training this year, he looked at video of himself from last season. "I don't necessarily look like the bat boy throwing anymore," he said. Last year, when Storen got to spring training, he felt awed by some of the players around him. The first game he threw to catcher Ivan Rodriguez, he thought, "Wow, this is cool."

"I still think it's awesome, but I don't have the wide-eyed, overwhelming feeling as much," Storen said. "But I'm still not comfortable. I feel like when I get comfortable, I get complacent, and that's the last thing I need to be."

Storen's education has continued this spring, the latest lesson coming Thursday in the Nationals' 6-5 victory over the Mets. Storen allowed no runs in 11/3 innings, striking out the final three batters he faced, all with two men on base, following a visit to the mound by pitching coach Steve McCatty.

McCatty first told Storen to forget about the ball four - a 3-2 slider - that he thought should have been a strike and repeated the mantra the Nationals have emphasized to Storen all spring: "Get ahead. Use your fastball."

Storen sprinkled in sliders and curves but mostly relied on his fastball. The Nationals have instructed him during games to throw almost only fastballs in order to work on his command of the pitch. Last season, Storen said, he was "breaking-ball-happy," relying on his curveball and slider often and early in counts.

"That's the way I've always pitched," Storen said. "You can get away with it, because I wasn't facing the same players for a year long. You can see a guy one or two times, and I can get away with a breaking ball. Once you see a guy four times, and he's looking for it, it's not going to be effective."

When Storen throws his fastballs, he repeats the word "precise" in his head. He aims to throw to one spot rather trying to throw as hard as he can "and see where it goes," he said, a trap he fell into last year.

Storen wondered if the more precise ("but not cute," he declared) approach may affect his velocity. After the first outing this spring in which he utilized the new style, Storen asked Nationals' video coordinators about the speed of his pitches. He had thrown just as fast while focusing on location as he had when he focused on power.

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