When the Nationals paired Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen together in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, this wasn't how they imagined the two handing off games to each other.
Storen has pitched in four of Strasburg's six starts, but he has only followed Strasburg immediately twice. And in both of those games, he's entered the game in the sixth inning, not the eighth or ninth.
Strasburg lasted just five innings on Saturday, leaving with 94 pitches and two runs. He needed 37 to get through the first inning, and manager Jim Riggleman had Miguel Batista warming up in case Strasburg hit 45 pitches in the first, which would've been the cutoff for keeping him in the game.
Once Strasburg settled down, though, his pitch count had all but guaranteed it would be a short day for the rookie phenom. His fastball ran away from him at times on Saturday, though he settled down after walking three in the first inning. He said his sped up his delivery too much on Saturday, and struggled to establish a rhythm while throwing so much from the stretch (which was one of the Nationals' big reasons for sending him to the minors at the beginning of the year).
The Nationals were only down two when Strasburg left the game, but they needed a reliever to keep them in the game and give their offense time to wake up. That was Storen, who looked as sharp as he has all season on a day where his fellow rookie struggled.
""It's awesome. That's what he does," Strasburg said. "He goes out there and he shuts it down. That was big for us. Over the two innings, our bats came alive. If he didn't hold the Mets there, it might have been too far out of reach."
The Nationals tied the game for the first time with Storen on the mound, as he struck out three batters in two innings. Manager Jim Riggleman had already had long reliever Miguel Batista up several times, and was leery of using him to follow Strasburg.
So the Nationals turned to Storen, who's been almost as tremendous in his own role as Strasburg has been in his. He has a 1.59 ERA since joining the team on May 17, and with Storen replacing the erratic Brian Bruney, the Nationals' bullpen has the best ERA in the majors since then. He's had a few rough moments in the last two weeks, taking a loss in Strasburg's start against the White Sox and throwing a wild pitch that gave the Orioles the lead for good last Saturday in Baltimore.
The Orioles game, though, proved to be a key point for Storen. He went back and watched video of his outing, looking for inconsistencies in his mechanics as he often does, and noticed he was getting "kind of twisty" with his delivery. Storen ditched his windup completely, throwing everything from the stretch, and stabilized his release point.
The result was a two-inning outing where Storen looked as dominant as he has all season. He had a mid-90s fastball and a sharp slider, and the Mets didn't hit a ball out of the infield in two innings against him.
"Storen gave us a couple of innings. That was real good," manager Jim Riggleman said. "He has been real good lately and getting some big outs for us, quicker innings and lower pitch counts. So he is making a lot of progress."