A lot of encouraging things happened for the Nationals in their wild, 5-4 victory yesterday. Bryce Harper knocked in three runs after he talked his way into the lineup. Ryan Zimmerman poked a game-tying single to right and bailed out Ross Ohlendorf. Adam LaRoche started the Nationals’ scoring with a laser of a solo home run, and he finished the game with a stunning, diving stop-and-flip to Rafael Soriano.
For Davey Johnson, the best moment was none of those things. His favorite part of the game came in the eighth inning, after he called on Drew Storen to protect a one-run lead. In five pitches, Storen recorded a popup, a lineout and a strikeout. In an instant, Storen had bounced back from consecutive outings of allowing four and three runs, utilizing the aggression Johnson had implored him to use.
“That’s what I was talking about,” Johnson said. “His stuff is too good. He doesn’t need to try to trick ‘em. He said, ‘Here.’ And that was the highlight of my day.”
Johnson had said he believed Storen was trying to “trick” hitters rather than going after them, and it had led to his two meltdowns. Johnson and pitching coach Steve McCatty kept telling Storen he had the kind of stuff that does not require nibbling or an intricate sequencing of off-speed pitches.
“I thought he had a good point,” Storen said. “I’m trying to pitch around guys. I have good enough stuff. I just need to attack hitters and we have a great defense behind you. There’s no reason to be pitching around anybody.”
Storen retired Carlos Quentin and Chase Headley with 94-mph sinkers. Storen started Jesus Guzman with two more sinkers, which hummed at 95 and 96, and finished him off looking at a slider.
“If I have a good fastball, I need to be using it,” Storen said. “If I’m not using it, it’s kind of – I’m pitching around people.”
Storen’s greatest success has come when he relied more on his fastball. In 2011, when he saved 43 games, he used either his four-seam fastball or sinker 65 of the time. This year, Storen has thrown one of his two fastballs 54 percent of the time. He has implemented his change-up this year far more than ever before, throwing it 14 percent of his pitches. In 2011, he threw it on less than 1 percent of his pitches.
One five-pitch inning, no matter how impressive, is not enough to prove much of anything. Despite sub-par overall numbers, Storen didn’t need to prove much, either – he had not allowed an earned run in 16 of 17 appearances before his last two. But it did allow him to rebound after two bad games, and it showed again that he can be resilient.
“Obviously, you want to get out there in a big spot,” Storen said. “If you know anything about pitching in the bullpen, you can’t get two bad outings get to you. Especially when you’re on a streak like I had before. Just learn from them, move on and get out there again.”