The Nationals sent Drew Storen to the minors on Friday night in order to get the worst season of his young career back on track. Manager Davey Johnson spoke with Storen after Friday’s doubleheader, and both pitching coach Steve McCatty and bullpen coach Jim Lett sat down with Storen, too. In the last outing before he was optioned to Class AAA Syracuse, Storen, who has battled and tinkered with his mechanics all season, abandoned his traditional stiff front leg delivery for an older version of his delivery.
In Syracuse, away from the pressures of the major leagues, the Nationals want Storen to find his way again with pitching coach Greg Booker and minor league pitching coordinator Spin Williams. In essence, the Nationals want Storen to revert back to the pitcher he was when the Nationals selected him with the 10th overall pick in 2009 and the closer who saved 43 games. “Mechanically and tempo-wise and arm slot and everything, clear his mind, come back with a fresh, clear mind and be able to help us,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said on Saturday afternoon.
“We felt that he was struggling, struggling with his mechanics, with his tempo with his delivery, with his arm slot, and we felt that we would do him better by letting him go down in a less stressful situation, work on his mechanics, get it fixed and get back up here and help us,” Rizzo added.
Storen’s road back will include finding comfort again in his old high-leg kick delivery. Storen used his so-called stiff hip delivery in 2011, last season and this year. Storen would keep his front leg straight and hold his hip firm before landing on it and exploding to the plate. It took careful timing but it worked successfully for Storen as it allowed him to generate more power from his 6-foot frame.
This season, fully healthy from last year’s elbow surgery, Storen’s timing was off too often. The Nationals worked with Storen in the past, even in the minors, to speed up his stiff hip delivery to help limit base runners. His time of 1.6 seconds to the plate was simply too slow.
“His decision was to go with that stiff hip, slide thing,” McCatty said. “I always thought the other one looked to me more athletic. I like it better. A lot of things we liked to see, he was quicker to the plate, but he had 43 saves doing it that way. But right now he’s flying off his arm slot, release point is not the same and everything gets affected. It’s a snowball effect. He’s going to go back to the original leg lift, doing the things that you need to do to hold runners on and also work on getting that arm slot back, getting that release point back, getting that confidence back.”
Storen will now work on a more commonly-used delivery, where he kicks his front leg up and drives towards home plate. Johnson believed that Storen looked “more natural” with this delivery and he still threw the ball well this way. Storen wants to make the change, McCatty said, and the Nationals support it. It just took a while to reach this point; Storen changed to his stiff hip delivery and had a successful season in 2011, so it was hard to abandon that throwing motion.
“I saw him with that high leg kick,” Johnson said. “I had heard about, he was doing something. I’ve only seen the hip movement and the stiff left leg. I haven’t seen the other move. I saw it the first time when I had him warming up on his death bed out there (on Friday). I liked what I saw. … But I don’t know how that translated – does he translate slide-step off of that? I don’t know what he did off of that with runners on. But in 2011, when he saved 43 games, he was stiff front-legging it. It was pretty successful last year.”
Now, the hard work lies on Storen to build on his new mechanics mid-season — not an easy task — while in the minors.
“It all depends on how you want to take it,” McCatty said. “We’ve all been sent down. You can go down with the attitude that you’re mad and take your time doing it and be down there longer, or go down and say ‘I’m going to get this conquered as quick as I can and get back to the big leagues.’ What he does and how he handles his business is up to him.”