On Romero’s departure and Storen’s turnaround

When the Nationals show up to work this afternoon, they’ll find themselves in a deeper hole in the division than when they left Atlanta on Sunday night.

The Braves’ win over the Pirates last night means the Nationals are now a full seven games back of Atlanta in the National League East. The deficit continues to grow and it’s again found the deepest it’s been all season.

The Nats will try and make up some ground this week as they welcome two below-.500 teams to D.C. - the Mets and Twins. The Mets are coming off a three-game sweep at the hands of the Marlins, who have far and away the worst record in the majors.

Miami outscored the Mets 24-8 during that series, for what it’s worth. I can’t imagine Mets manager Terry Collins is too proud of those numbers.

Yesterday, the Nats lost one of the left-handed relievers they had stockpiled within their organization when J.C. Romero, who had spent the first two months of the season at Triple-A Syracuse, opted out of his minor league contract. FOXSports.com first reported Romero’s decision to opt out and also reported that the veteran lefty is close to a deal with the Indians.

Signed to a minor league deal by the Nats after a strong showing in the World Baseball Classic this spring, Romero got off to a great start with Syracuse, putting up eight straight scoreless appearances to start the season. He finishes his tenure within the Nats system with a 2.40 ERA in 12 2/3 innings, having struck out 16 and walked four.

Romero last pitched for the Chiefs on May 8 and subsequently landed on the DL with tendinitis in his shoulder. The injury came at a bad time for Romero, as he might have gotten the call to join the Nats after Ryan Mattheus broke his hand in San Diego. Instead, the Nats promoted fellow left-handed reliever Fernando Abad from Syracuse, and Abad has impressed, throwing 4 1/3 scoreless innings since his call-up.

Moving from one reliever to another, there was a two-week span from mid- to late May in which Drew Storen struggled like he hadn’t struggled since his rookie season in 2010.

During a seven-game stretch, Storen posted a 6.75 ERA, allowing five earned runs over 6 2/3 innings. His WHIP over those seven appearances was a robust 2.252, opponents had an OPS of 1.006 off him and he either allowed an earned run or let an inherited runner score in five of those seven games.

Since then, however, Storen has gotten back on track, delivering five straight scoreless outings dating to May 27. His WHIP in those 4 2/3 innings is 0.644, his OPS against is .343 and he’s stranded the only runner he’s inherited.

“I was still throwing strikes,” Storen said of his rough stretch during a conversation over the weekend, “but it just shows you that the room for error up here is not very much. A lot of stuff I was throwing was flat and it was up in the zone. I was still getting decent results as far as ground balls and stuff, but they were finding holes. And this game is about results, so you’ve got to make the adjustment.”

The adjustment, Storen said, was more mechanical than mental. He focused on not trying to dissect every part of his delivery and instead trusted himself a bit more. The mental approach to each outing stayed consistent throughout the rough patch, Storen said, but he tried to pull back on the over-thinking there, as well.

“It’s just a matter of looking at mechanics and focusing on things you can control,” Storen said. “I can control where the ball is in the zone, I can control my mechanics and my mental preparation. That’s the funny thing about the game. Sometimes you can overanalyze something and you just need to take a step back and simplify it. I think that’s what I did.

“It’s still the same, though. I felt like I was going out with the same approach. It’s not like I was going out and trying a bunch of different stuff each time. But you just keep grinding, knowing that the tide will turn in time.”

Given how the Nationals offense has struggled to push runs across and had issues late in games adding insurance runs, it’s crucial that the Nats make the most of their opportunities when they do have the a late lead. Having Storen back in a groove can only benefit a team that might be playing plenty of tight ballgames over the rest of this season.

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