VIERA, Fla. - When Drew Storen took the mound for his first appearance of the spring last year, he says he attacked the outing much like he would if it was the regular season, throwing with nearly full force right out of the gate.
The next day, Storen said he could tell something was wrong with his right elbow. The Nationals reliever ended up needing surgery to remove bone chips in the elbow, and he missed more than half of the season as a result.
That’s why Storen came into today’s outing with a couple of goals: get the feel for his pitches, get his work in and don’t get hurt. He certainly didn’t like the fact that he blew a save today, turning a 2-1 Nationals ninth-inning lead into a 2-2 tie, but it probably won’t be costing him any sleep tonight.
“Just trying to set everything in gear first time out,” Storen said. “Last year I kind of let it eat first time out and it kind of came back and hurt me a little bit. Went out there (today) and got my timing down and get used to facing hitters that aren’t your own guys.
“Felt good. Wasn’t really maxing out. Just a couple gears down trying to stay on top of the ball and locate more than anything else. Started pushing it there at the end, like I said, just trying to stay on top of it. Kinda aimed it a bit early. But like I said, coming out healthy’s the most important thing.”
Arguably, the most challenging thing for a pitcher this early in spring is to attack his outing with less than 100 percent effort. There’s so much time until opening day and guys know that they should be easing into things, but that’s often easier said than done.
It’s often tough for a starter or a guy who pitches in the middle innings to fight the adrenaline and keep the energy level from getting too high, but think about things from the perspective of a reliever who enters a one-run game in the ninth inning. He looks at the scoreboard and knows he can save the game for his team, but also knows he should be trying to just work on minor things like commanding his fastball or building up arm strength.
“It’s tough,” Storen said. “That’s the challenge that spring training is. I got in trouble last year doing that, because I didn’t do that. In a competitive situation, you want to sit there and do all those things, but you’ve got to look at the big picture and know it’s February whatever-it-is and we’ve got a long time to go.
“It’s nice to win and all that right now, but in the end, it’s about preparing yourself for the season. It’s about the 162, not the whatever-we’re-playing this spring. That’s the way I look at it.”
On a side note, Storen was asked if he wanted to comment on the CBSsports.com report that he was battling “unbearable” back spasms in Game 5 of the National League Division Series last season.
“Nah, it’s not an issue,” Storen said. “The game’s done. The game’s about results. It didn’t work out well. We’re past it.”
Danny Espinosa played less than four full innings today and only got one at-bat, which resulted in a simple groundout to second. But for a guy rehabbing from a torn rotator cuff, today’s game - his first spring contest of the year - was a positive.
“Felt normal, felt really good, actually,” Espinosa said. “I guess I met the goal I wanted to meet my first at-bat - just put the ball in play. I felt good. The swing felt easy. There was probably a little lagging just because of timing, but as far as being normal, it felt normal. I felt like I wasn’t swinging hard. I felt really easy, which is what I want to feel. So actually I was pretty happy, even though it was a groundout. I was pretty happy with it.”
Down the stretch last season, Espinosa was diagnosed with a bruised capsule in his left shoulder, but he found out after the season that it was actually a torn rotator cuff that was the real issue. He really struggled offensively over the last few weeks of the season, but now says he feels like himself again.
“I don’t know if it was the pain that ever bothered me, it was more the lack of strength,” Espinosa said. “I had no strength in my shoulder. To get back in there knowing that my shoulder felt good and I didn’t have to cheat for a pitch, even being early, didn’t have to cheat for a pitch, didn’t have to feel rushed or anything, I guess that was a good feeling, mentally to know that I could just go up and have an at-bat.”