Nats readying for possibility of opening day without Storen

SARASOTA, Fla. - After putting what seems like a couple thousand miles on my rental car over the last 24 hours, I’m all set up here in the press box at Ed Smith Stadium for the Battle of the Beltways, Florida Edition.

I’ve smacked my colleague Roch Kubatko around a little bit, and now that that important piece of business is out of the way, I can pass along some Nationals injury updates.

Manager Davey Johnson said today that the Nationals are going to put closer Drew Storen on a “very conservative throwing program” as he works back from elbow inflammation, and Storen is not set to begin throwing again until the early to middle portion of next week, likely Tuesday or Wednesday.

With the conservative timetable in place, it appears that there’s a chance that Storen might not be ready for opening day. The Nats will take things slow with their 24-year-old closer, and will be ready to make alternate plans if Storen isn’t ready come April 5.

“I’m going to prepare for the possibility that he doesn’t break (camp) with us,” Johnson said. “I’m not saying it’s out of the question for him to break with us, but I’m going to prepare my staff for the opener with the possibility (that) Storen might not be my closer because of being cautious to make sure he’s 100 percent right.”

The positive for the Nats is that they have a couple viable closing options in place should Storen not be ready opening day.

One is Brad Lidge, who has 223 career saves. Lidge didn’t spend much time in the closer role last year, recording just one save in 25 appearances with the Phillies, but he’s thrown well this spring, going five innings and allowing just one earned run with seven strikeouts.

Another candidate, Johnson said, is Henry Rodriguez. The hard-throwing righty has yet to allow a run in six spring innings, giving up just one hit and two walks with five strikeouts. Rodriguez saved two games for the Nats last year.

“Those are the only two I’m willing to throw out there at this time,” Johnson said.

As you’ll notice, Johnson is not considering Tyler Clippard for the closer spot if Storen is out, saying that he doesn’t want to take Clippard out of his set-up role, in which the righty thrived last season.

“The role that (Clippard) played last year during the season, and I watched a lot of his appearances, it’s hard to replace what he did,” Johnson said. “What he did last year was at least as important, if not more important, than the closer. So it goes back to the old adage that you want to avoid weakening two positions, and I keep that in mind all the time.”

In addition to Storen, Johnson also had incremental updates on Michael Morse, Adam LaRoche and Chien-Ming Wang.

Morse (lat) continues to feel good, Johnson said, but the training staff will still hold him back from any baseball activity. LaRoche got seven at-bats yesterday in a minor league game, but because of the pain in the outside of his left foot, did not make turns around first base.

“We haven’t made that turn very often,” Johnson deadpanned. “He might fit right in.”

Chien-Ming Wang “had a great day” yesterday, Johnson said, and felt great doing light conditioning work. The bleeding in his strained hamstring is dissipating, but the Nats will continue to be “ultra conservative” with the righty.

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