Drew Storen is used to coming into ballgames and dominating, facing just a few hitters and then walking off the mound having completed a successful day's work.
Storen wasn't able to do so in tonight's 5-3 loss to the Phillies and, unfortunately for the Nationals, those dominating, quick innings have been fewer and farther between from Storen as of late.
Called upon to work the eighth inning in a tie ballgame tonight, Storen retired the first batter he saw, and then walked Michael Young on five pitches. He got Ryan Howard to strike out for the second out of the inning, but an RBI single into the right field corner by Delmon Young plated Michael Young all the way from first, and Domonic Brown followed with a double smoked into the right-center field gap that brought in another run.
Just like that, the Phillies led by two, and Storen ended up being stuck with his first loss of the season.
"Just left a couple balls up in the zone and they found holes," Storen said. "Didn't make the pitches. ... Just giving up too many hits, and you can't do that late in the game."
The pitch to Delmon Young was a letter-high sinker, while Brown crushed a sinker that hung in the heart of the plate. The velocity on the pitches were fine, they were just up.
"I mean, it has nothing to do with my stuff," Storen said. "Like I said, it's just a couple pitches finding holes. Stick with it. Stuff's there. If I wasn't throwing my normal stuff, I'd be more willing to tinker with stuff."
Tonight's outing marked the fourth time in Storen's last seven games that he's allowed at least a run. His previous time out, he wasn't credited with an earned run allowed, but he did surrender a hit and walked a batter, and allowed an inherited run to score.
Over that seven-appearance stretch, spanning 6 2/3 innings, Storen has a 6.76 ERA and a 2.40 WHIP. On the season, Storen now has a 5.21 ERA. This from a guy who posted a 2.75 ERA and converted 43 of 48 saves in 2011 and then put up a 2.37 ERA over 37 games last year.
With Rafael Soriano now serving as the Nats' closer, Storen's role has changed, and he's no longer certain of when exactly he'll be used. But the 25-year-old isn't using that as an excuse.
"I mean, doesn't matter," Storen said. "At this point, I'm going out there, I'm pitching. Doesn't change my job if we're up by 100, and I'm pitching. I still need to make pitches and not leave balls up in the zone."
Fans might wonder whether Storen's confidence is an issue right now, either due to this rough stretch or his blown save in Game 5 of the National League Division Series. But Storen insists that his problem has nothing to do with his mental approach and is completely based on execution, or lack thereof.
He also knows that he can't rely on his past success as he tries to fight through his struggles.
"It's not a confidence thing," he said. "It doesn't matter how long you've been doing this or what you've done in the past. It's what have you done for me lately? I haven't done a whole lot. So I'm gonna be unhappy about it regardless, and it's gonna be fixed."