Drew Storen climbed the mound at Space Coast Stadium today, the Nationals holding a one-run lead in the ninth inning. For Storen, making his first outing of the spring, the moment held all the drama the average person may feel swiping his credit card at the gas pump.
“Treat it like a live batting practice,” Storen said afterward. “It’s nice to win and all that right now. In the end, it’s about preparing yourself for the season. It’s about the 162, not the whatever this spring.”
And so Storen brushed aside the results. The first two Marlins hitters, minor leaguer travel-squadders Christian Yelich and Kyle Jensen, greeted him with singles smoked into the outfield. After an RBI groundball, the Marlins had knotted the score and sent the game into extra innings. Storen kept throwing his fastballs, mixing in one slider and one change-up, and cared far more about the condition of his arm than the scoreboard.
“Just getting out there and not trying to get hurt,” Storen said. “Just kind of toning down a little bit, just be nice and free and easy.”
Storen has learned about how much his competitive streak can burn him during the early Grapefruit League schedule. Last year, Storen blazed fastballs at full throttle. “I kind of let it eat,” he said. During the outing, he felt a twinge in his elbow. The pain never went away. In April, he underwent surgery to remove a bone chip in his right elbow and missed the season’s first three months.
Storen’s nature is to go fast. The experience taught him to take it slow, especially this year, when the World Baseball Classic extended spring training an extra week. “That’s the challenge that spring training is,” Storen said.
As he rehabbed from his surgery last spring and summer, Storen also learned more about the process of how to build arm strength. He sees the regular season on the horizon and knows how his arm should feel now.
“It’s so far out, I don’t need to hit the accelerator right now,” Storen said.
In the box score, Storen will take a blown save. In his fourth spring training, Storen knows just how irrelevant that is.
Storen also deflected the report from CBSSports.com this week that back pain contributed to his Game 5 blown save in last year’s playoffs. “It’s not an issue,” Storen said. “That game’s done. Game’s about results. It didn’t work out well. We’re past it.”
>>> Second baseman Danny Espinosa made his first appearance in a spring game today, going 0 for 1 with a grounder to second, batting left-handed against Marlins starter Henderson Alvarez. Espinosa is playing with a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder, and he believes having strengthened the muscles around the rotator cuff will sustain him all season. His few swings in real, live competition today encouraged him.
“It felt normal,” Espinosa said. “It felt like I wasn’t swinging hard. It felt really easy, which is what I want to feel. I’m actually pretty happy, even though it was a groundout.”
Espinosa’s one at-bat came as something of a relief. Last October, Espinosa gutted through the NLDS with the fresh tear in his shoulder and went 1 for 15. Today, he could play without that on his mind.
“I don’t know if it was the pain that even bothered me,” Espinosa said. “It was the lack of strength. I had no strength in my shoulder. To get back out there knowing my shoulder felt good and I didn’t have to cheat for a pitch, didn’t have to feel rushed or anything, that was a good feeling mentally to know that I could just go out there and have an at-bat.”
>>> Yunesky Maya, the Cuban right-hander who has thus far proved to be a misfire of a signing by Mike Rizzo, fired three scoreless innings in relief, allowing one hit and one walk. “He’s got all the weapons to be a successful major league pitcher at the major league level,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “We need him to pitch like he’s capable of pitching. He’ll be an insurance policy for some of our starters.”