VIERA, Fla. — Drew Storen needed a few reminders today, before he went out and pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning against the Detroit Tigers — an outing Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said was “definitely” the reliever’s best of the spring.
Before he stepped on the mound, he looked at the brim of his hat where he’d written the three things he needed to remember once he took the ball: Down, precise, focus through the target.
He did all of them, making the proper adjustments quickly after falling behind 2-0 to the first batter he faced, Jamie Johnson, to come back and strike the outfielder out looking. Storen agreed with his manager that it was his best performance of a spring that he has struggled through early, allowing six earned runs in just 5.1 innings.
“I’ve felt good every time I went out there but the way I went out there (today), I’m the most satisfied with the way that I executed,” Storen said. “My stuff’s been there and it’s going to be there, it’s just a matter of trusting it.
“I think that’s kind of played into my struggles early, I was worried that my stuff wasn’t going to be there so I tried to do too much and now that I know that it’s there I can trust it and work towards execution. That’s the big thing that I’ve been telling myself and wrote on my hat: to focus and work towards the target. It doesn’t matter how hard you throw — especially now that guys are starting to know me and know what I try to do, I really need to try to execute pitches a lot more or I’m going to get hit around.”
It was the right “mood hat” for the day, then, as Storen jokingly called the motivational tool.
The 23-year-old has written all kinds of reminders on the brims of his hats. He’s on his fourth cap already this spring and couldn’t remember how many he went through during the 2010 season, though he said he keeps them all. If the message on an old one fits what he needs to do that day, that will be the day’s winner.
“It’s kind of like a mood ring, it’s a mood hat,” he said. “I keep them all. Since there’s so much going on, I’ll be the first to admit, you get caught up in thinking about throwing things and try to do too much. It’s just a nice, easy way to bring your mind back into it.”
With his confidence high from Monday’s outing, Storen said he was ready to take the closer role once the season starts, if that’s what the team asks of him.
“I want to be (the closer),” he said. “That’s the plan, but I know that I can also fall into any other role and be fine with that.
“I feel like I could pitch right now but I’m glad there’s a couple more weeks where I can still work on stuff. I want to be somebody that’s over-prepared but I feel like I could pitch in a game now, especially after today.”
Wang continues to throw but still no timetable: Nationals trainer Lee Kuntz provided an update on pitcher Chien-Ming Wang today, one day after manager Jim Riggleman said there was no way the right-hander — recovering from a major shoulder surgery in 2009 — would be ready for opening day.
“Chien-Ming is continuing to throw,” Kuntz said. “With him, it’s a gradual process, ebb and flow, you take him up a level, you see how he responds, and you reformulate your plan from there. He threw in that game over on the minor league side. He became a little sore. We backed off a little bit; I wouldn’t call it a setback by any means. He’s continuing to throw. He’s throwing in the bullpen, and when we determine he’s ready to throw in a game, we’ll discuss that as a staff.”
Kuntz reiterated that while Wang is not throwing near full speed in his bullpen sessions, he is “making progress.”
“We continue to listen to him,” Kuntz added. “He continues to tell us how his body feels after we take steps forward. That’s all we’re trying to do, just make sure we don’t drop the rock on anybody.”
Morse keeps rolling, Desmond has strong day: Michael Morse was 1-for-4 with a single to left field in the first inning today, off Rick Porcello. But here’s how good Morse’s spring has been: with the 0-for-3 at the plate the rest of the game, he dropped his batting average to .469.
Conversely, Ian Desmond, who went 1-for-8 in his last two games combined, had a nice day at the plate today with three singles and a stolen base to go 3-for-4 and raise his average to .314 for the spring.