At this point, all signs point to second-year right-hander Drew Storen being the Nationals closer. He’s saved eight games in eight attempts this year. He’s riding a 17-inning scoreless streak, and manager Jim Riggleman has been giving him almost all of the ninth-inning work in recent games. Last night, in the Nationals’ 7-6 win over the Braves, Storen pitched a perfect ninth inning after Tyler Clippard and Sean Burnett had allowed Atlanta to come back in the eighth.
But has Storen officially received the title? Not yet, Riggleman said today.
“I want it to become permanent, but like I’ve said before, we’re in the infancy of Drew Storen’s career,” Riggleman said. “We have to react a little bit to what we see. When you see him as good as he’s been throwing and the results he’s been getting, it’s an easy reaction just to give him the ball in the ninth. But we’re not going to jump to conclusions or take anything for granted, but I certainly anticipate that he’s going to get big outs for us in the ninth and finish games.”
(Kristen Hudak, who’s in Atlanta for a couple days, passed along these quotes from the Nationals’ clubhouse. She’ll also have a piece on Wilson Ramos shortly. Look for that here.)
The big reason Riggleman wants to wait before officially handing Storen the role is his belief that young closers do best when they grow into the job after a kind of internship. The only problem there is, the best examples of that working are when young relievers follow a proven closer, like Mariano Rivera learning from John Wetteland in New York, for example. Burnett has been solid, but has struggled recently, and he’s hardly a proven closer. And Storen has pitched so well lately, it’s hard to turn away from him.
Even if Riggleman wants to stay away from bestowing the closer’s title, and whatever pressure goes along with that, on Storen, he’s effectively serving in that role. And right now, the emphasis is on the word ‘effectively.’