Three weeks to the day that he was demoted to the minor leagues to regain his form, Drew Storen was back in a major league game. With the score tied at 2 in the ninth inning against the Braves on Friday night, he jogged slowly out from the visitors’ bullpen in left field and, once he reached the infield, walked to the mound.
Storen, who was recalled from Class AAA Syracuse on Thursday, fired 17 pitches, erased a one-out single, struck out two batters on wicked sliders and induced an inning-ending flyout. Fired up, he smacked his glove as he walked off the mound and high-fived teammates in the dugout. It was the sharpest Storen has looked in some time.
“It’s just kinda getting back on the horse,” he said. “I didn’t look at it as a big test or anything that monumental. Just trying to put up a zero, give us a chance to win. It was fun, more than anything, I would say.”
Added Manager Davey Johnson: “I was glad to see that. I’m glad he’s back.”
Storen looked comfortable in his new delivery, the high leg kick he has used most of his life but scrapped before the 2011 season for the stiff leg delivery. His fastball sat between 93 and 95 mph. His slider appeared to break sharper than before. He got Jordan Schafer to strike out looking on one. He fired six to pinch-hitter Evan Gattis, who finally struck on a foul tip.
“I felt great,” he said. “Just kind of getting back to my old ways. Got put to the test getting a guy on first and felt good about the way I held the runner on. Made good pitches when I needed to against some good hitters.”
Storen said he had no nerves getting back in a major league game after his three weeks with Syracuse, and especially in a tie game in front of loud Turner Field fans.
“I love pitching here,” he said. “If anything, the chop locks me in. Probably wouldn’t want it any other way, to be honest with you.”
>>> Young players often hit a slump in their rookie season and left-handed reliever Ian Krol is enduring his own now. The 22-year-old began his major league career in early June on a fabulous tear. He didn’t allow his first run until his tenth appearance and had a 2.12 ERA through his first 18 outings. In his past seven games since, Krol has stumbled. He has a 7.20 ERA — four runs over five innings — in that span. In fact, he has allowed all of his past six inherited runners to score.
Krol hit, perhaps, his lowest point so far on Friday night. In a 2-2 game, he got the first out of the 10th inning, a groundout from left-hander Jason Heyward. Up came right-hander Justin Upton, one of the hottest hitters in baseball. It was a matchup that, in hindsight, called for pitching around Upton. (Krol said afterwards that maybe he should done that but Johnson had more issue with the location of the deciding pitch.)
It is Krol’s nature to attack batters with strikes. He got to 2-2 on Upton by firing only fastballs, between 95 and 96 mph. Two days before, he got ahead on Brandon Belt before firing a 2-2 fastball that was hammered for a home run. Friday, Krol’s gut told him to mix it up with a curveball. The 79-mph pitch fluttered over the heart of the plate and Upton slowed up enough to drill it just over the left field fence for a walk-off homer.
“The selection I thought was there,” he said. “I thought that’s what the right pitch was but it was not in right placement. At all.”
Krol was solemn following the loss. He understands that he needs to correct his recent stretch of struggles. He said he’ll do it by sticking to what has worked before.
“Keep the same routine,” he said. “Don’t shy away from it. It’s a game of failure. Right now I’m pretty down on myself. I let my team down, especially back-to-back nights. We fought hard to rally back and tie the game up. But I’m just going to keep going out there and keep doing what I know how to. Just keep the same routine.”
>>> Ross Ohlendorf made his second rehab start on Friday night with Class A Potomac. He allowed three runs on eights hits, walked one and struck out two over four innings. The Nationals had hoped he would be stretched out to five innings and held to 85 pitches. This was expected to be Ohlendorf’s last rehab start before he returned to the Nationals, but that hinges on the evaluation of his outing.
>>> After six strong innings, right-handed starter Taylor Jordan has thrown 142 innings between the majors and minors this season. Johnson said Jordan is expected to make his next start. The Nationals have capped Jordan’s innings at 155 this season, but he could be shut down before that, when they feel the largest workload of his career has been most taxing on him. Jordan is in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery.
“I feel, even at the beginning of the season, you tend to get tired a little bit,” Jordan said. “You might go through a dead-arm phase or something. I still feel pretty good.”