Rizzo on lookout for veteran reliever to team with Storen

In a couple of years, Drew Storen will be the undisputed option when the Nationals need to protect a ninth-inning lead. He’s already got a closer’s mentality -- eager to take the ball with the game on the line, the guile to walk a fine line in the midst of danger and the ability to wrap yesterday’s mistakes or disappointments in a neat little package that is quickly forgotten.

Next year, Storen will get save chances, but he probably won’t be the only reliever in the Nationals bullpen to do so, at least early on. Though the Nationals made Storen the 10th overall pick in the 2009 amateur draft with the intention of making him a closer for the long term, the right-hander remains a work in progress.

Look at Storen’s stats from his rookie 2010 season -- five saves in seven tries after Matt Capps was traded to Minnesota, a 4-4 record and 3.58 ERA, 22 walks and 52 strikeouts in 55 1/3 innings - and you see both promise and room for improvement. He’s yet to establish himself as a closer, and that’s the chief reason Washington general manager Mike Rizzo is on the lookout for bullpen help at the Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Rizzo’s priorities are finding a first baseman, securing a front-line starter and adding a reliable reliever to replace the non-tendered Joel Peralta. A secondary need is someone who has experience closing games, a veteran who could both help the 23-year-old Storen continue his transition into his eventual role and chip in and save a few games. It’s possible that Rizzo will fill both requirements with one pitcher, and in an offseason when every team is searching for relief, he has both multiple options and plenty of competition.

If Rizzo thinks familiarity will breed success, he might re-sign right-hander Miguel Batista, a swingman in the Nats bullpen last season who boasts a 31-save season with Toronto on his expansive resume. Though the Nationals probably won’t be in on the top free-agent closers, who wouldn’t be a match with Storen in waiting and would cost them a draft choice, they could have an interest in guys like Chad Qualls, Kerry Wood or Bobby Jenks.

Qualls spent 2½ seasons as the Diamondbacks’ closer, but had control problems and injuries and was shipped to Tampa Bay at the July 31 trading deadline. Wood has closed in the past with the Cubs and Indians, but was a setup man for the Yankees during the stretch run and playoffs in 2010. Jenks, non-tendered by the White Sox, has seen his save totals drop from a career-high 41 in 2006 to 40, 30, 29 and 27 over the past four seasons. His 4.44 ERA last season was unsightly, and Jenks’ agents may gamble that he can get a multiyear deal based on past performance. A one-year-deal would provide more incentive for a rebound, and a strong first half could make Jenks a midseason trade candidate, the route the Nats went with Capps last year.