Until opening day arrives and the games start to matter, there will be no verdict on Drew Storen’s spring training. Some outings, he has decided to throw hard and just pitch. Others, he has focused on one particular aspect, mechanical or otherwise, and dialed back. He’s struck out 15 in 10 innings, but he’s also allowed 15 hits and four walks. He has consciously built up for the season slowly, and even with eight days to go he will make two or three more appearances that are only tune-ups. “There’s still a lot of time left,” Storen said.
And so, there will be days that are neither alarming nor encouraging, just part of the process. Storen had that kind of inning today against the Mets. He allowed a leadoff home run to Lucas Duda and a walk while striking out two. He was excellent with his offspeed pitches, getting both whiffs with them. But he struggled to locate his fastball, throwing only 12 strikes in 23 pitches while his velocity sat a tick below his usual standard, mostly between 90 and 92 miles per hour.
“He’s still not where he needs to be,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “A couple more times, he’ll be fine.”
Today, Storen tended to miss to his arm side and high with his fastball. He fell behind Duda, 3-1, and then Duda smoked a liner over the right field fence. Storen came back to strike out Zach Lutz flailing at a slider. He walked Ruben Tejada and then breezed, inducing a pop up from Mike Baxter and striking out Kirk Niewenhuis on a breaking ball.
“Fastball command isn’t there,” one National League scout said. “His breaking ball has been good.”
Storen’s best fastball came on the pitch following the home run. It hummed at 93 miles per hour, with downward movement. Otherwise, the scout said, his fastball was “kind of flat,” lacking life.
It is not uncommon, the scout noted, for late-inning relievers to throw with lesser velocity in the spring, both because they are building strength for the season and the moment fails to spike their adrenaline. “I saw [Phillies closer Jonathan] Papelbon the other day, and he was 86-89 [mph],” he said.
Storen has focused more on honing mechanics than throwing hard. He still hasn’t let loose, and he wouldn’t need or want to reach his regular season form without the feeling of the regular season.
“Percentage-wise, I don’t really know,” Storen said. “It’s getting close to as much as you can in this circumstance. That last little extra gear is going to come with your real adrenaline in a big game. I could go out there and just try to throw as hard as I can. Velocity is not going to be there until the season. I’ve already shown some good [radar gun] numbers. It’s a little bit of a rollercoaster this time of year.”
More encouraging was Storen’s offspeed stuff. He threw strikes with both his change-up and slider, and he baffled Mets hitters with both. “I’m just getting that locked in,” Storen said. “That’s usually one of the last things.”
Storen pitched the seventh inning, and during the sixth he warmed up for the entire inning to simulate his new role. When he closed, Storen could time precisely when he entered the game. As a set-up man behind Rafael Soriano, he knows the timing of his entrance will be more flexible.
“That’s when you get the strength,” Storen said. “I get more out of that than going back-to-back [days]. That’s the tough part about the bullpen is the up-and-downs, especially when you don’t know when you’re going to go.”
So, some good, some bad for Storen today. By the time it matters in a week, he and the Nationals confident it will be just the good.
>>> Gio Gonzalez will make one more state this spring after he cruised through six one-run innings today. He allowed one run on four hits and walk while striking out three, settling his spring training ERA at 1.93. Gonzalez said he feels he still has a few more things to iron before opening day, but it has a smooth spring for him. “When the season starts, I’ll be right where I need to be,” Gonzalez said.
>>> The Tigers returned Rule 5 pick Jeff Kobernus to the Nationals today. Kobernus, a speedy infielder who also played outfield for Detroit this spring, had been under consideration to make the Tigers’ 25-man roster. “He’s got a shot,” GM Dave Dombrowski said yesterday. To complete the transaction, the Nationals sent the Tigers $25,000.
The Rockies are still weighing whether to keep left-handed pitcher Daniel Rosenbaum, the other major league Rule 5 pick the Nationals could lose.
>>> Johnson planned for Ramos to catch all nine innings, but he took Ramos out after seven because of the heat. Johnson also decided he wanted to give backup Carlos Maldonado some playing time.
>>> J.C. Romero warmed up to pitch the ninth inning, but the Mets closed it out in the top half and he never had the chance to enter the game.