As could be expected, Drew Storen has had a few hiccups since coming back from elbow surgery, which wiped out his entire first half of the season.
A little over two weeks ago, Storen gave up four runs and registered just a single out in an outing against the Giants, turning a 2-1 Nationals deficit into a 6-1 ballgame.
Since then, however, Storen has really started rounding into form. He's had six straight scoreless outings, spanning 5 2/3 innings, and hasn't allowed a single baserunner over his last four appearances.
Last night was probably Storen's finest performance of the season. He came into a huge jam, facing the middle of the Marlins order with the potential tying runs in scoring position, and shut the door. It was big for the Nats, and Storen admitted today that it was a big step for him, as well.
"I think it was," Storen said. "I think the biggest thing for me was I didn't get over-amped ... because it's easy to get in those situations and get fired up, especially because, like I said, coming off the injury, I keep building up and increasing the workload. I keep increasing the situations and working towards it. So it's a step forward for me.
"I wasn't going out there trying to throw 100 (mph), I was trying to go out there and pitch to the situation. Now that my stuff's back, I'm just learning to pitch to the situation. I think that's kind of how I'm looking at it."
Storen saved 43 games last year, so he's obviously used to working the ninth inning. The vast majority of his work since coming off the DL mid-way through June, however, has been prior to the ninth. Storen's roommate Tyler Clippard has remained the closer since first getting a shot to close on May 22, and that's unlikely to change down the stretch.
That doesn't necessarily bother Storen, however, because he knows first-hand that the game is often won or lost by a reliever working the seventh or eighth. Manager Davey Johnson agrees, saying that Storen "won the game yesterday. That was the ballgame right there."
"You look at a lot of the situations last year, a lot of my saves should have gone to Clip, because he was coming in in situations like that and he would essentially lock down the game, and then I'd kind of just put the icing on it," Storen said. "A lot of times, the save isn't in the ninth. Sometimes it's before. I always joked with Clip last year, 'Dude, you probably got more saves last year than I did.' That's just kind of how it is, and that's the beauty of having a good bullpen.
"Everybody down there can step up in those situations and lock it down. I think that's kind of the nice thing. We have the flexibility in those last three innings. Nobody knows when the game's going to be on the line. And so to have that, I think that's kind of the biggest thing."
Storen feels his sinker might be a little bit better now than it was before the elbow surgery. It has a bit more movement down in the zone now, he says, whereas it had more fade on it pre-surgery. Now he just needs to get used to controlling that extra movement and get more consistent with the pitch.
Johnson plans on continuing to use Storen in a set-up role for the most part, but said today that if Clippard is used in back-to-back games down the stretch, he wouldn't hesitate to use Storen as his closer the following day.
"I still look at him as a closer, (but) it's hard to get off Clippard," Johnson said. "Clip has been almost perfect, but I don't have to abuse Clip at this point. I've liked where Storen has been at the last two to three times out. I think he's all the way back, obviously."