Nats option Drew Storen to Triple-A Syracuse (updated)

In order to trim their roster from 26 to 25 following today’s doubleheader, the Nationals optioned a guy who saved 43 games for them two years ago.

Manager Davey Johnson announced after tonight’s 2-1 walk-off win that the Nats have optioned Drew Storen to Triple-A Syracuse.

“He needs to get right, mentally and mechanically,” Johnson said. “It’s that simple. ... This is what’s best for him.”

Storen had a 2.75 ERA and 43 saves for the Nats in 2011 and a 2.37 ERA in 2012 after coming back from elbow surgery.

But this season, he has a 5.95 ERA in 47 games and has struggled with a change in roles. The Nats signed Rafael Soriano to a two-year, $28 million deal this offseason and made Soriano their closer, shifting Storen into a set-up role.

Storen did not talk to the media tonight, but his friend and fellow reliever Tyler Clippard did, and he had some very strong, critical things to say about the move.

Update: Johnson, pitching coach Steve McCatty and bullpen coach Jim Lett all met with Storen after tonight’s game, and according to Johnson, Storen wasn’t on board with the decision to send him to Triple-A. Not that you can really blame him for wanting to remain in the majors.

“He wants to work it out here, and I understand that,” Johnson said. “He made some major changes (to his delivery). Even though he felt bad, he said he felt better doing it with the high leg kick and all that, but just needs to get right mentally and mechanically because I need him. It’s that simple. I don’t need him where he’s at where he at times fights the situation. He’s too important to this ballclub going forward. He just needs to get right. He gets it right, he’ll be back.”

Johnson has said in the past that he feels Storen moving into a set-up role affected him mentally, and he repeated that message tonight.

“The role with closing, you know when you’re going in,” Johnson said. “When you’re setting up, I had to explain to him, ‘You get the right-handers, Clip gets the left-handers in the set-up role.’ And I used him a lot because I felt he wasn’t being as sharp as he was when he was closing. That he could work it out, and I think I’ve used him more than anyone on the ballclub. More appearances, anyway. But I definitely have to have him. He’s a big weapon and if he can get squared away, he’ll be back.”

It’s been quite a significant drop-off for Storen over the two seasons, one that’s surprised Johnson.

“Again, if you’re not mentally prepared when you go out there, if you’re having any distractions, like they were running on him and he was getting real slow and deliberate, he just needs to free himself up,” Johnson said. “I don’t know mentally he didn’t like the role he was in and that was affecting him, and he was overthinking it. I don’t know. But he needs to push all that aside and go down there and do the things he’s capable of doing.”

Johnson was asked whether the organization was culpable at all in Storen’s drop-off, due to moves made this offseason.

“I always try to put guys in situations that they can be successful and by-and-large, the opportunities that he had, he should’ve been more successful,” Johnson said. “I was able to pick and choose parts of the lineup that he should’ve been more successful. But he sometimes gets to overthinking his mechanics and getting too tight. He’s got a death grip on the ball. I think just that not closing and the uncertainty of what day he was gonna pitch got him just more analytical. ...

“Maybe since he’s never had failure, he’s never had to deal with failure. ... It was a sharp lesson up here, dealing with failure. But I mean we could’ve done different things with different players, but I think this is going to be best served for him. Get it right, get him back. ...

“You know, this is what’s best for him. He probably, he’ll probably have a hard time coming to grips with that, but it is the best thing for him.”

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