The Nationals have played 88 games this season and Drew Storen has pitched in 43 of them. He’s on pace to appear in 79 games this season, just his second in the majors and first as a closer, and that’s not a situation that his manager wants him to be in.
It was with that in mind that Davey Johnson thought he’d send Henry Rodriguez out for a second inning — one that would also be the ninth in a save situation — on Wednesday night.
“I was going to run (Rodriguez) out there,” Johnson said. “(Bullpen coach) Jimmy Lett said (Drew) wasn’t real happy about that. I got his blood boiling.”
For his part, Storen, after securing his 22nd save of the season in 25 opportunities, said with a smile that he was unsure what reaction his manager was talking about but admitted that “my favorite thing in the world is to pitch the ninth inning.”
Either way, the closer got his wish and the manager got his win. Still, Storen has now pitched on five of the last six days and the last thing Johnson wants to do is wear him or Tyler Clippard and Sean Burnett (who have both appeared in 39 games this season) out.
With that in mind, he’s been attempting to cultivate the “other side” of his bullpen.
“if you want to be 10, 20, 30 games over .500, you have to have somebody (else),” Johnson said. “Two or three of my (past) closers have come to me when we’re on a roll and said, ‘Hey, Skip, I need a day off,’ and I want to groom that guy that can come in and pick up the slack.”
For the Nationals, obviously the first guy for that role would be Clippard but he constantly walks a fine line between use and overuse so that means the responsibility will fall more on the shoulders of Ryan Mattheus, Rodriguez and Todd Coffey. Mattheus and Rodriguez both pitched Wednesday night in either a tie game or with a one-run lead and neither have an ERA this season above 2.00.
To this point, Storen, Clippard and Burnett have been placed in significantly more high leverage situations than anyone else in that bullpen but as Johnson begins to shape things the way he’d like after more than just 10 days on the job, that may well be changing.
“There’s a lot of great arms out there and they’re just now establishing some roles,” Johnson said. “I think the bullpens’ basically been Burnett, Clip and Storen and the other side is now looking pretty strong. Both (Clippard and Storen) are invalauble to this ballclub, I just can’t abuse them but at the same time establish those guys who can do a good job when they’re down. That’s the only way you can run off a long winning streak.”
Clippard was unavailable Wednesday night and there’s a good chance, no matter how his “blood boils,” that Storen will be unavailable Thursday night. Storen said Wednesday hasn’t reached the point where he feels too sore to throw and if he did, he would say something, but he’s learned a lot about saving his strength for the mound — trying to become Trevor Hoffman-like and require just eight pitches to warm up.
“I’m a big believer in warming up to throw and don’t throw to warmup,” he said.
But Storen is not competitive to a reckless point. He’s well aware that if the Nationals continue to play one-run games every night, he can’t pitch in the ninth inning of all of them. That’s where the rest of the bullpen comes in.
“I always talk about it and it’s so cliché, but we really are a family down there,” Storen said. “The whole year, there are going to be days when somebody’s going to be down and somebody’s going to have to step up.”