Manager Davey Johnson said he thinks that right-hander Drew Storen didn't need much time at Triple-A Syracuse to get everything straightened out and that his standard leg kick and rejuvenated mental approach will help the ballclub in a critical moment of the season.
The Nationals announced today that Storen had been returned to the team and that reliever Ryan Mattheus was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse.
"I saw the first two outings," Johnson said. "He has continued what he did up here with the more conventional leg kick, 'stead of the stiff leg. He has speeded up his times to the plate (1.3 seconds), which is good.
"In doing that, his arm slot is getting in a better position to have a little downward plane on his running fastball. They tell me his breaking ball is tighter. The last two times out, he has been really good."
Did Johnson believe Storen needed to fix the mechanical issue with his stiff leg, or was it more that he needed to get his head clear after a rough first half of the season?
"I think all of the above," Johnson said. "Drew has a tendency to over think things. But he had the stiff leg move when he saved 43 games. I do think it frees him up, and there will be less tension. He has a tendency to (put) a death grip on it. So, I think that is going to ease up."
Johnson said the move was prompted because of Mattheus' recent struggles and Storen's hard work on the physical and mental parts of his game. In Mattheus' last 10 outings, he had gone 0-1 with a whopping 14.09 ERA in 7 2/3 innings, allowing 12 earned runs.
"I think Drew is ready," Johnson said. "I don't think he needed much. For us to win a bunch of games, I need that late-inning stopper. Mattheus, since coming back, his command and his pitches have not been as sharp as they were prior to him slamming that locker. For immediate need, we need somebody who at least knows he can do it."
Johnson was disappointed the team almost relinquished its 6-1 advantage after seven innings Wednesday against the Giants. If the Nationals are to have any chance at getting back in the race, they have to close out games efficiently.
"We have a five-run lead, and I am determined not to go to Clip (Tyler Clippard) or (Rafael) Soriano," Johnson said.
"Even the left-hander (Ian Krol) gives up a home run to the left-hander, and Mattheus didn't get anybody out. Here we go. So, I got to have a shot in the arm out there."
Johnson said Mattheus has to be confident in all the pitches he throws, and this option will give him time to work on that at Triple-A Syracuse.
"I just think he is just not using all his pitches, not making all his pitches," Johnson said. "He has got an awful good sinker, and he throws hard. I think sometimes he tries to throw too hard."
Johnson said the time in Syracuse did that for Storen.
"I think he needed a change of scenery to get back to just being Drew," Johnson said. "Too much was going on about when he pitched and all that stuff."
Storen's role will continue to be late innings, usually the eighth inning. He also closed when Johnson wanted to give Soriano a breather.
"I was giving him the first opportunity to close things if Soriano couldn't post," Johnson confirmed. "I will be using him more (if it is) right-handed, I would go to Storen and more left-handed go to Clip."