The start of the 2013 season has been a bit of a rocky one for Drew Storen.
Storen, who saved 43 games for the Nationals in 2011 and then came back from elbow surgery last season to post a 2.37 ERA in 37 games, went through a stretch this season where he either allowed an earned run or an inherited runner to score in five of seven games.
His ERA sat at 5.21 on May 25, and manager Davey Johnson had started avoiding using Storen against left-handed hitters recently because of a new bullpen makeup and Storen's struggles against lefties.
Storen has now made five straight scoreless appearances, however, and has a 2.45 ERA since May 25. He was tremendous in a key spot last night, striking out the dangerous Carlos Gonzalez and Michael Cuddyer in the eighth inning to strand the potential tying run in scoring position in the eighth inning.
Johnson said today he's seen changes in Storen recently, both in terms of his stuff and his approach.
"I've always had confidence in him," Johnson said. "Coming back from the elbow injury in 2012, where they took the chips out, he came back and he gets a little caught up in velocity. And I'm more, velocity doesn't mean anything if you don't locate. And the other thing, his two-seamer and his four-seamer had the same movement, which was more of a lateral movement.
"In 2011, he had extension on it and his two-seamer went down, where his four-seamer had a little more lift to it and it was straighter. That's a lot of times normal tendency coming back (from injury), trying to get arm strength and velocity back, and then you get away from the real success of a pitcher - movement and location. And I saw him starting to do that a month ago, and he's only getting better and better."
As I mentioned, one of Storen's bigger issues this season has been keeping left-handed hitters in check. Lefties have posted a robust .339/.397/.607 slash line off Storen this year, compared to a .254/.288/.317 line put up by right-handed hitters.
Lately, however, Johnson has given Storen a chance to face some really tough left-handed hitters (Ryan Howard and Domonic Brown in Tuesday's game against the Phillies and Dexter Fowler and Carlos Gonzalez last night), and while there have been a couple hiccups, like Howard's leadoff triple in Philly, Storen has been better in that area.
Storen showed off his full repertoire against Gonzalez - four-seam fastball, changeup, slider and two-seam fastball - and had Gonzalez guessing to the point that he couldn't pull the trigger on a running two-seamer on the inner half that ended up going for a called strike three.
"He pitched Gonzalez, that's the way he's capable of doing," Johnson said. "In 2011, against left or right ... he was about the best on my staff. And that was because he really pitched them. And that's what I'm seeing now.
"And I think also the more pressure in the situation, the better he's gonna pitch, because he's used to that adrenaline rush. And I certainly saw it last night. I think that's more who he is."
Game Update: It didn't take long for the Rockies to get to Dan Haren.
Five pitches into today's game, DJ LeMahieu smacked a solo homer to left. Six hitters in, it was 3-0 Rockies.
Haren allowed three runs on four hits (three of which were for extra bases) in the first inning, and the Nationals are in an early hole.
Haren has now allowed 19 homers this season, most in the majors, and he's surrendered 102 hits through 88 2/3 innings.
Since posting a 3.38 ERA during a solid five-start stretch from late-April to early-May, Haren now has pitched to a 7.65 ERA over his last six-plus outings.