VIERA, Fla. - Drew Storen doesn’t have the answers for what’s going wrong, and the Nationals’ second-year reliever isn’t about to get confounded by the persistent questions about his missteps, either.
After getting battered around again Friday afternoon by the St. Louis Cardinals, Storen’s ERA increased from 10.13 to 12.79 amid speculation that he might be in danger of losing what once seemed a sure spot in the Washington bullpen.
“I don’t pretend to know mechanics and pitching and stuff. I know results and I know he’s not happy with the results,” Nats manager Jim Riggleman said. “You look at the ball coming out of (Storen’s) hand and it looks crisp and all that. The only thing I can say is he must be throwing the ball a little bit in the sweet zone there, in the middle of the plate, for them to hit the ball the way they did.”
In rapid-fire succession during a three-run St. Louis seventh inning, Storen allowed a triple by Matt Carpenter, a two-run homer to David Descalso on the next pitch and a Mark Hamilton solo shot two pitches after that. Following a single by pinch hitter Matt Adams, Storen sandwiched a pair of deep flyouts around a walk before getting an inning-ending grounder.
After the game, Storen patiently dissected his latest subpar outing, something he’s starting to do with some regularity. But he didn’t display frustration as much as he sounded determined to work through the rough patch.
“I just threw pretty appetizing pitches, apparently,” he said. “I was just trying to work on my spots and got a little too much of the plate. Just a game of adjustments, got to make some changes for next time, keeping in mind it’s a process.”
Storen’s plan Friday was to work mainly on his fastball. The problem occurred when he was leaving pitches right over the heart of the plate.
“I haven’t had a chance to look over the video, but from what I saw they were kind of middle-middle, so I need to start moving that a little farther to the side of the plate and a little bit down,” Storen explained.
At the beginning of spring training, the Nationals wondered whether Storen would grab the vacant closer’s role. When Riggleman said he would go to a closer-by-committee approach, Storen’s name was always mentioned among the candidates to work the ninth inning. Now, suddenly, Storen has to wonder whether he can make the Nationals’ 25-man roster.
Or does he?
“If you’re out there thinking about winning a job, or being this guy or being that, that’s where you get yourself in trouble,” he said. “I’ve got to go out there and get outs and hopefully that other stuff will take care of itself.”
Storen brushed aside a question about whether he was hurt, saying that’s not an issue.
“I feel perfect. It’s just a matter of executing,” Storen said. “Just because you feel good and you’re throwing hard at this level really doesn’t matter, and that’s what you’re seeing right now. I’m kind of throwing it up and over the zone. These guys don’t make mistakes.”
Last year, Storen had mixed results after being recalled to the major leagues in May, a quick ascension for the 10th pick in the 2009 June draft. He went 4-4 with a 3.58 ERA in 54 games as a rookie, recording five saves in seven opportunities.
But any momentum he had from 2010 has quickly vanished, though Storen isn’t a picture of self-doubt despite his poor performances.
“It’s a tough learning experience, but it’s going to make me better at the end,” Storen said.