The Nationals welcome the San Francisco Giants to town today for the first of three games at Nats Park.
Let’s just call it the Battle of the Underachievers.
These two teams rival the Angels and maybe the Blue Jays in the most disappointing department this season, with the Giants in last place in the National League West, sitting 13 games under .500, and the Nats still three games under .500 even after their sweep of the Phillies this weekend.
Two tough lefties will take the mound tonight in the series opener, with Gio Gonzalez getting the ball for the Nats and the Giants countering with Madison Bumgarner.
Since the start of the 2012 season, Gonzalez (28) and Bumgarner (27) rank first and second in the majors, respectively, in wins among left-handed pitchers.
As the Nats try to carry over whatever positive vibes they built up this weekend, Drew Storen is down at Triple-A Syracuse trying to generate some positive momentum on an individual level.
After posting a 5.95 ERA in 47 games with the Nats this season, Storen was optioned to Syracuse on July 26 and has since made five appearances with the Chiefs.
The first two - in which he allowed a combined four runs (three earned) on six hits with five strikeouts over 2 2/3 innings - were rocky. The third outing - one run on one hit (a solo home run) with two strikeouts in one inning - was a step in the right direction. And the two most recent appearances - two scoreless, hitless innings with four strikeouts - have been, statistically, much better.
Nationals manager Davey Johnson watched Storen’s second appearance with Syracuse online and reported that the right-hander was a bit wild and struggled against the left-handed hitters that he faced. But, as the numbers showed, things started to improve from there.
“First two outings weren’t too good,” Johnson said this weekend. “His third outing was a lot better. He was quicker to the plate. His location was better, stuff was better. He gave up a home run on a changeup, his third-best pitch. But everybody felt like they like where he’s at. ... He’s making progress.”
When the Nats sent Storen down, they hoped that he’d be able to work with Syracuse pitching coach Greg Booker and minor league pitching coordinator Spin Williams to revamp his mechanics. The goal was for Storen to eliminate the delivery that featured a stiff front leg and return to his high leg kick, which the Nats hoped would help him be quicker to the plate and be able to find a consistent arm slot and release point.
The Nats knew that mechanical transition would take a little time to come together, but it’s possible we’re already seeing Storen start to find a little bit of a comfort zone with his new delivery. He’s failed to allow a baserunner in these last two outings, and the four strikeouts are obviously a good sign, as well.
“He’s a little taller,” Johnson said. “Instead of the stiff front leg and kind of the hip going out and sliding, now he’s picking it up and putting it down. Looks more regular.”
Storen had major trouble getting left-handers out in the majors this season (lefties hit .343 with a 1.040 OPS off Storen, compared to a .263 average and .688 OPS from righties), and that’s been the case in the minors, as well.
Left-handers are batting .462 off Storen at Syracuse, compared to an .083 average put up by righties. All four earned runs Storen has allowed at Triple-A have been driven in by lefties.
Storen has a host of issues he has to work through at this point, from learning to repeat his mechanics to holding runners to finding a way to slow down left-handed hitters. It’ll be a process, but if Storen keeps improving, he should be ready to return to the Nats when rosters expand in early September.