The Nationals' ninth-inning situation last night - a five-run lead at the beginning of the inning - seemed like a perfect time to let a struggling rookie closer work through his slump. The Nationals had surged to a big lead in the bottom of the eighth, in a September game against another team that was out of the playoff race. And even after Drew Storen gave up a run, it seemed like there was plenty of room to let him record the final out of the game.
Nationals manager Jim Riggleman didn't see it that way. He pulled Storen after he allowed a home run to Chris Johnson and walked Jason Castro, his former Stanford teammate. Sean Burnett came in, threw one pitch, and got the last out on a flyout.
Storen was scarce in the clubhouse after the game, but Riggleman said the decision was mostly based on a matchup advantage; the switch-hitting Geoff Blum is hitting .107 off lefties this year, as opposed to .283 against righties.
"We don't have any specific role for anybody. We're just trying to get outs. I felt like the best way to get that next out was to bring Burnett in. Did I think Drew would get that next out? Yeah. But I was a little more confident that Burnie coming in fresh there to face a guy off the bench, that turning him around right-handed was a little more to our liking."
One could argue that Riggleman's move displayed a lack of confidence in his young closer, but there was something revealing in the start of his answer: Even if he is giving Storen most of the work of a closer, he said he doesn't consider Storen to be the unquestioned closer yet.
The rookie blew a three-run lead on Sunday, giving up a walk-off homer to Jayson Werth, and has struggled in a few save situations. Burnett has been one of the Nationals' steadiest relievers and that, plus a clear matchup advantage, was enough for Riggleman to make the switch.