Sixteen months ago, Drew Storen was putting the finishing touches on a 43-save season which, in the eyes of many, made him one of the top young closers in baseball.
Today, Storen finds himself a set-up guy, a pitcher who had hoped to put a crushing blown save behind him and prove he could still close at an elite level, but instead will be primarily working the eighth inning this season in front of the Nationals’ new $28 million man, Rafael Soriano.
Storen has been on quite a professional roller coaster early in his major league career. He’s had success, was nearly traded, suffered a major injury, returned to top form and experienced one of the more gut-punching blown saves in recent postseason memory.
Yesterday, he signed a $2.5 million contract with the chance for another $1 million in performance bonuses with the Nationals, avoiding arbitration and giving him a nice raise from the $498,750 that he earned last season.
The money is nice, but it might not do much to ease the sting of a cold October night and what one could certainly view as a demotion.
Here’s a brief summary of the highs and lows Storen has been through in the last couple of years:
Just 23 at the time, Storen posted 26 saves through the first four months of the 2011 season, only to see himself nearly shipped to the Twins for Denard Span at the trading deadline.
The trade fell through, and Storen finished the 2011 campaign with 43 saves (fourth-most in the National League), became a fan favorite and a respected young voice in the Nationals’ clubhouse.
Storen was bothered by some elbow issues in spring training last year, and eventually needed surgery to clean out bone chips in the elbow. That procedure cost him the first 89 games of the season.
He returned in mid-July, only to find the closer’s job in the hands of his good friend and roommate, Tyler Clippard. Storen battled some early inconsistencies but hit a groove late in the season, allowing just one run in his final 16 appearances, walking none and striking out 13 in that time.
He earned the closer’s job back at the end of the regular season and then dominated in his first three appearances in the National League Division Series against the Cardinals, picking up a save and a win, striking out four and allowing just a single baserunner.
Then, the blown save in Game 5. Four runs crossed the plate, turning a 7-5 ninth-inning lead into a stunning 9-7 loss.
Storen entered the offseason with the proverbial roller coaster at the lowest point in his young career, knowing he’d have to put that four-run inning behind him. He’d need to stay confident, and was determined to work hard, keep his eyes ahead and show he was still an elite closer.
Three days ago, the Nationals signed Soriano to a two-year deal, and yesterday, general manager Mike Rizzo officially named Soriano the team’s closer.
Rizzo had nothing but positive things to say about Storen during Soriano’s introductory press conference yesterday, and he claimed that the Soriano signing had nothing to with Storen’s blown save in Game 5 of the NLDS.
Storen grew up around sports. His dad was a sports broadcaster in Indianapolis, and Storen spent time with Reggie Miller and numerous other athletes as a kid. He knows how the business side of the game works and is as professional of an athlete that you’ll find.
If the Nationals want him to work the eighth inning, Storen will work the eighth inning. But for a guy who saved 43 games two seasons ago and was a strike away from pitching the Nats into the National League Championship Series, this isn’t how he planned it.
He’ll just have to keep pitching well and hope that roller coaster gets back to another peak sometime soon.