Storen, however, had one of his toughest outings since returning. He induced a groundball from the first batter with his improved sinker. But there were already signs of lack of control. Jose Reyes doubled. He walked Carlos Lee on six pitches, struggling to locate his slider. He then walked Austin Kearns on five pitches, missing low with his sinker. (Reyes and Lee advanced to second and third, respectively, on a passed ball by catcher Jesus Flores.)
Storen recovered to struck out Justin Ruggiano with three straight sliders. Then, on the first pitch to Bryan Peterson, Storen pulled a fastball and it sailed inside of Flores and to the backstop. The ball bounced back to Flores, who recovered it, and no one scored.
But that was enough for Johnson. He came to the mound and pulled Storen, handing the ball to lefty Michael Gonzalez. Storen walked off the mound, his head down.
“His ball was moving everywhere.” Johnson said. “It landed about three feet. I didn’t want to have to do what I had to do there. With him, I didn’t want him to throw too many pitches coming off that injury.”
Johnson has shied away from using Storen heavily since his return from the disabled list on July 19. He saved 43 games last year but missed the first 89 games of this season because of elbow surgery in April. Since his return, Storen has been roughed up only once and has shown the good command and increasing velocity. On Tuesday, he needed only four pitches to get two outs. Three days later, he misfired.
Since Storen returned, the Nationals have been using an eight-man bullpen. With Henry Rodriguez landing on the disabled list on Thursday, the bullpen is down to seven relievers. And as a result, Johnson will lean more on Storen, and maybe use him to spell closer Tyler Clippard and setup man Sean Burnett.