Storen’s confidence is high and his changeup is improving

VIERA, Fla. - After two weeks of watching pitchers throw bullpens and live batting practice sessions with an L-screen in front of them and more than a week of trying to pull some type of information from watching position players field groundballs and take BP, we’re just one day away from something of substance.

Yeah, at this point, a meaningless Grapefruit League game against the Mets counts as substance.

This morning’s workout will be brief and fairly casual, manager Matt Williams said yesterday, as the players will just take infield and hitting batting practice, serving as a bit of a preview for what gameday mornings this spring will be like.

Pitchers, most of whom have thrown at least one live BP within the last week, will play catch and go through their conditioning drills, and then they’ll rest up for the Grapefruit League slate of games.

Drew Storen threw his first live BP of spring yesterday, and while it was just his own teammates in the batter’s box and they didn’t do too much swinging, he enjoyed getting to face Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, Tyler Moore and a couple of other Nats, giving him more of a sense for how his pitches are playing so far this spring.

“This is the most fun step for me,” he said yesterday. “Throwing bullpens is nice and you can really get a good feel for everything, but until you see how those hitters react to everything, that’s when you really get a good gauge on how things are and the speed differential and things. Being able to execute pitches with a guy in the box. The guys I faced today, I was happy with that because it was some of our best hitters right there. So it was good. I was excited.”

We all remember Storen’s rocky 2013 season, which included one dominant stretch from late-May until early-July when he allowed an earned run in just one of 17 appearances, a rough July which saw his ERA balloon more than two points, a demotion to Triple-A Syracuse and then a strong finish, when he posted a 1.40 ERA after returning to the Nationals in mid-August.

It was a series of ups and downs, but a year that ended on a positive note, allowing Storen to enter the offseason feeling like he was back on track. And while players largely turn the page on a season once it’s over with, Storen was able to carry some positive vibes from the way that he bounced back from his struggles and pitched at a high level once he returned to the majors, this time without his stiff hip delivery.

“I guess it’s always good to end a year on a good note,” Storen said. “It’s just a matter of what you’re going to do in the offseason. I was really happy with my whole offseason and where I’m at now. Confidence-wise, it’s there. That’s not an issue. It’s just about getting back and getting into shape more than anything.”

storen-red-throwing-sidebar.jpgThis spring, Storen’s main focus other than getting in game shape physically and making sure he stays healthy is improving his changeup, a pitch that he’s slowly started to mix in more and more over the past few years to go along with his fastball and his slider.

Per Fangraphs, Storen threw the changeup 0.8 percent of the time in his rookie season in 2010. That bumped up slightly to 1.5 percent of the time in 2011, then 4.1 percent in 2012, and last season, Storen started trusting the changeup enough that he threw it 9.7 percent of the time.

Not coincidentally, the velocity of Storen’s changeup has dropped each year, from 88.3 mph in 2010 to 88.2 mph in 2011, down to 87.8 mph in 2012 and 87.2 mph last year. Storen has been working on trying to get more of a speed differential between the changeup and his other pitches, and as that differential has increased, so has his use of the change.

That’s still an ongoing process, as Storen’s changeup is still coming in faster than he’d like it. But he continues to work on holding it with a loose grip and letting it roll off his fingers, which helps decrease the velocity.

“I had success with it last year, but I didn’t necessarily have the normal speed differential that a true changeup has,” Storen said. “So for me, that was kind of one thing I want to concentrate on this offseason, and like I said, I had guys on their front foot (during the live BP), so I was happy with it.”

Storen kept the changeup down nicely yesterday, and got multiple swings and misses on the pitch. Williams has liked what he’s seen from Storen so far, and was pleased with the way the changeup was looking yesterday.

“I liked it,” Williams said. “Again, they don’t always know what’s coming. And it’s early, pitchers are ahead. But nonetheless, it had good action, good down action in the zone. And guys are swinging and missing (at) it. Which is good. It’s a good sign. And the more confidence he gets in it, the more he can use it as a weapon out there, which is good for him.”

Here’s today’s quote of the day, written atop the morning schedule sheet: “Talk with the player next to you. Make sure he is as committed to the prize as you are.”

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