Improved changeup a key to Storen’s success

In my on-field interview with Wilson Ramos after yesterday’s Nationals win, I asked the Nationals catcher what’s been the key to Drew Storen getting off to such a strong start to the 2014 season.

Storen has a 1.26 ERA through 17 outings this year, and he’s allowed just eight baserunners in his 14 1/3 innings, with 15 strikeouts.

Ramos noted that Storen’s changeup has been a big factor in his effectiveness, saying that Storen has been throwing the pitch much more than in the past, and that it’s had a positive effect.

Storen, for his part, agrees.

“It’s been huge,” Storen said after locking down a scoreless seventh inning yesterday. “I’ve been able to use it against lefties, and I think that’s been a great tool for me, being able to throw it for strikes and keeping that thing down. ...

“It’s easy to throw good pitches in the bullpen, but having the confidence to get up there in a big situation and use it in a big spot, that’s really the main thing for me.”

Storen has tinkered with the changeup for years, but only recently has it become a real weapon for him. He’s thrown it 12 percent of the time this season, up from just under 10 percent in 2013, 4 percent in 2012 and 1.5 percent in 2011.

The confidence in the pitch has increased over time, and coming into this season, Storen really felt good about the way the changeup was coming off his hand. He developed a better feel of it thanks to a throwing program he did this offseason where he used weighted rubber balls to warm up, a program where you don’t actually release the ball but hold onto it through the throwing motion. Storen said that helped him get better extension on the changeup and really feel that the ball should be rolling off his fingers.

Now he’s just working on implementing the changeup at the right times.

“It’s just knowing the right spot to use it, knowing pitch selection, and honestly just watching other guys and seeing where they’re successful with it,” Storen said. “I think that’s helped me in fastball counts sometimes. First pitches, guys can ambush me sometimes. So that’s really helped me and helped me not have to nibble on my heater and have to throw the perfect pitch.

“Obviously I watch what Clip (Tyler Clippard) does with his, and I think Stephen (Strasburg’s) I also watch. He has such a great breaking ball, too. I just see what kind of counts they’re using it, and certain hitters. It’s about having confidence in it.”

When a reliever only throws two pitches on a consistent basis, it’s not difficult for a hitter to guess that he’s getting a certain pitch and then tee off. Two-pitch relievers can certainly have success, especially if they throw in the upper 90s or have a wipeout breaking ball, but having a third pitch keeps hitters on their toes a bit more.

Storen’s certainly seeing that now, with the changeup complementing his fastball and hard slider.

“I think, in general, it’s about making them feel more comfortable than anything,” Storen said. “If those guys don’t know, if they’re guessing heater and I throw them changeup, it puts it in their mind. They can’t eliminate pitches against me, and I think that’s kind of the No. 1 thing.”

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