Storen, out all year after surgery in April to remove a bone chip from his right elbow, likely made his sixth and final appearance after pitching a scoreless seventh inning on Tuesday with two strikeouts. He tossed 11 pitches, 10 for strikes, and commanded the strike zone well.
On Sunday, Storen had a tough outing for Class AA Harrisburg, allowing four runs in 2/3 of an inning. Nationals coaches were concerned that Storen’s arm strength was fine but he was trying to throw too hard and not showing consistent enough command.
Storen said he made mechanical adjustments following the rough appearance. “Just didn’t try to throw hard and be more natural and tried to pitch a little bit,” he said.
Johnson has said the right-hander reliever, who saved 43 games for the Nationals last season, will be eased back into the major leagues as a setup man.
“I feel confident out there and I feel comfortable,” Storen said. “That’s kind of the main thing. That’s what you try to get in spring training. I treated these rehab appearances like spring training and I’ve been really happy with where I’m at.”
The Nationals, as Johnson acknowledged, have a difficult choice to make when Storen returns. No reliever stands out as an easy choice to remove from the 25-man roster to make room.
Henry Rodriguez has been the most inconsistent reliever by a wide margin, but he’s out of minor league options. Rodriguez has too much raw ability for the Nationals to designate him for assignment, which would surely result in losing him with nothing in return.
Ryan Mattheus and Craig Stammen are the only relievers, other than Storen, who have minor league options remaining. But both have been excellent. Mattheus has a 1.69 ERA in 32 innings with 22 strikeouts. Stammen has tailed off a bit from his stellar beginning to the season, but he still leads the Nationals’ bullpen in ERA (1.66) and innings (48 2/3) to go with 48 strikeouts.
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