In his two previous outings prior to yesterday, Drew Storen had thrown a combined 54 pitches in two innings.
He had allowed seven runs on seven hits, walked one, struck out two and allowed hitters to post a .538 batting average and a 1.725 OPS.
After the second of those two blowups, manager Davey Johnson talked about wanting to see Storen get back to attacking hitters, being less fancy and instead challenging guys with his fastball and slider. Johnson felt Storen was trying to "trick" guys, and wasn't liking it. He and pitching coach Steve McCatty shared their thoughts with Storen, who Johnson has admitted can be a bit stubborn at times.
Yesterday, Storen went out, threw five pitches and got three outs in a 1-2-3 eighth inning. On to protect a one-run Nationals lead, Storen got Carlos Quentin to pop out opening the inning on a first-pitch 94 mph two-seam fastball, got Chase Headley to line out to third on a first-pitch 94 mph sinker, and then needed just three pitches to strike out Jesus Guzman, going 95 mph, 96 mph and then dropping an 84 mph slider on Guzman for a looking strikeout.
"That's what I was talking about," Johnson said. "His stuff is too good. He doesn't need to try to trick 'em. ... That was the highlight film of my day."
Storen might not have liked having McCatty and Johnson lecture him on pitch selection and approach, but the message seems to have gotten through for the time being. Storen is a thinking pitcher, and at times, Johnson feels he can tend to overthink things, leading to problems.
If Storen simplifies the process and relies more on his pure stuff, Johnson says, hitters will have trouble touching him.
"I thought he had a good point," Storen said. "I'm trying to pitch around guys. I have good enough stuff. I just need to attack hitters and we have a great defense behind you. There's no reason to be pitching around anybody.
"With the pitch selection I had, it's easy to see that. When you're not throwing strikes or you're leaving the ball up in the zone, that's what it looks like. If I have a good fastball, I need to be using it. If I'm not using it, it's kind of (like) I'm pitching around people.
"It's knowing yourself, knowing what makes you successful, and going out there and executing. You go out and execute and just keep going. Go out there tomorrow and know what I need to do."
Storen has had a bit of an roller coaster of a season. He put up zeros in three of his first four appearances, then allowed runs in three of his next four. He went through a stretch in May where he was scored upon in four out of eight games, but then worked scoreless outings in 16 of 17 appearances. He then had that stretch where he got smacked around each of his two times out prior to last night, and his ERA now stands at 5.25.
It's clear Storen has the ability to still be one of the elite late-inning relievers in the game. He just needs to get into a comfort zone with pitch selection and approach. And after two poor appearances, yesterday proved that Storen still has the goods.
"Obviously, you want to get out there in a big spot," Storen said. "If you know anything about pitching in the bullpen, you can't let two bad outings get to you. Especially when you're on a streak like I had before. Just learn from them, move on and get out there again."