“That was a little bit reminiscent of last year,” Davey Johnson said with a smile as he sat down to talk with reporters.
The main difference, of course, is that the 2012 Nationals sit atop their division and are looking at what could be the first playoff appearance since the team moved to the nation’s capital.
These games mean a bit more than the ones last season, which is why Storen’s save - his first of the year - felt a little different than the 43 he notched in 2011.
“It was a lot of fun, especially pitching for a first-place team in that situation,” Storen said. “Doesn’t get much better than that.”
Also making today’s outing more meaningful than ones in the past was that it represented Storen returning to the mountain top, if you will. After having major surgery to remove bone chips in his right elbow earlier this season, Storen went through months of rehab, appearances in minor league games and attempts to slowly building up arm strength and confidence in his stuff.
Today, for the first time since Sept. 28 of last season, Storen trotted out of a major league bullpen with a chance at a save.
“It was good to see him back out there and get that out of the way,” Johnson said. “That kind of completes the rehab.”
Storen’s stuff was on point from the first batter he faced. He had Jose Reyes whiffing wildly on two changeups down in the zone, the second of which resulted in a strikeout to open the inning. He got Carlos Lee to ground out weakly to third before allowing a line drive single to right, but finished the inning off by getting another ground out, this one to the right side.
The sinker sat at 94-95 mph and was darting down in the zone, the slider had some bite and the changeup was dancing, as well.
“I’ve just got to keep that up, I guess,” Storen said. “I felt pretty good. I think the big thing for me is feeling good with my sinker. There’s no reason not to pitch to contact when you’ve got the guys playing behind you like I do.”
With Storen back pitching well, Johnson has plenty of options late in games. Storen got the opportunity in the ninth today because Tyler Clippard had thrown three straight days, and Johnson wanted to stay off him this afternoon.
But on days where everyone’s available, Johnson and Storen know that the back end of the ‘pen is stacked.
“It’s a tremendous luxury,” Johnson said.
“It’s huge,” Storen said. “You look at any teams that won what we want to win in the past, that’s what you need. Not just Clip and me. We’ve got everybody down there - (Craig) Stammen, Matty (Ryan Mattheus), Gorz (Tom Gorzelanny), all the guys down there. (Mike Gonzalez has) been huge for us, too. We’ve got a great bullpen down there, not to mention what our starters are doing, too. It’s a good weapon for him to have.”