Drew Storen was back with the Nationals on Thursday, clean-shaven, with a small splint on his right thumb. He turned to his locker with his hand open, and he pushed it through the air, demonstrating the motion that broke his right thumb and ended his season.
“It wasn’t really my intention to do any harm. Just kind of shut the locker and caught the metal on the side there. Obviously not in a good spot,” Storen said. “It’s frustrating. It’s one of those things that was in the heat of the moment. I’m a competitor. Obviously I was a little frustrated with my outing. But like I said, I had no intention. I’m not the type of guy to punch a wall or something like that. It’s not what I was aiming for.”
Storen said he hoped maybe he had just bruised his thumb, so he tried to play catch through it when he reported to Marlins Park last Friday. Something didn’t feel right, so he went to get an X-ray, which revealed the break. Then he told his manager.
“I just kind of told him, I said, ‘Look, you know, I apologize. I feel bad. I’m a competitor. I’m frustrated and all that. It wasn’t intentional,'” Storen said. “It wasn’t to do something to hurt myself and put myself in jeopardy, and he understood that.”
Storen was frustrated after the Sept. 9 loss to the Mets, in which he allowed a two-run home run to Yoenis Cespedes that helped the Mets clinch a sweep. The day before, he walked three hitters in the seventh inning and allowed the tying run to score in what had once been a 7-1 game.
“Those are big games,” Storen said. “I like to be the guy who’s out there when the game is on the line and obviously it didn’t go my way, and that feeds into the frustration.”
That frustration built through a month of inconsistency, one that built his eighth-inning ERA to 6.02, and his ERA in non-save situations to 6.00. At the time the Nationals acquired Jonathan Papelbon, statistics identified Storen as one of the best closers in baseball. He will finish this season with a 1.62 ERA in 35 ninth-inning appearances and 29 saves.
He dominated his first few outings setting up for Papelbon. Then he faltered.
Storen refused to comment on the Papelbon deal after it was made. He and his agent met with Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo, though neither would talk about what was discussed. The Nationals seem likely to trade Storen in the offseason. If they do, they trade a homegrown reliever whose ups and downs trace the franchise’s own over the last few seasons. He would not talk about what might come next.
“I’m not worried about it,” Storen said. “Like I said, I’m here for the guys, that’s what it’s all about, all the guys that are in here.”
Storen, whom the Nationals drafted with the 10th pick in the 2009 draft, is eligible to be a free agent after the 2016 season. He has made 355 appearances for the Nationals since making his major league debut in 2010, and has 95 career saves. Somehow, as is the inevitable case for late-inning relievers, he is known as much for the saves he did not make as the ones he did. Because of struggles in the 2012 and 2014 playoffs, and more recently those games against the Mets, some have questioned his ability to handle the most visible and pivotal situations. Asked whether those criticisms were fair, Nationals Manager Matt Williams said Storen always wanted the ball in those moments.
“Whether it’s the eighth inning, ninth inning, save situation, whatever it is, he wants to have that ball,” Williams said. “That’s all we can ask. He has desire. He has the willingness to go out there and pitch in those situations. Can’t ask for anything more than that. If you hang a slider, it can get hit. That’s the way this game is.”
Storen hung a few more sliders than he might have hoped in the last month before his injury, but remains “confident in what I can bring to the table.”
“I’ve been here for a while, and like I said, I don’t think … this last month and the struggles, that’s not me,” Storen said. “Like I said, I’ve had some tough times, but at the same time, I’ve always come out, come through and dealt with frustrating times and adversity and gotten through it and gotten better from it. I have no doubt moving forward that’s going to be the same.”