The Washington Times - March 22, 2011, 08:06PM

VIERA, Fla. — Drew Storen stood in front of his locker after the Nationals 3-1 victory over the Astros today and said the one thing that most succinctly summed up his 1-2-3 ninth inning.

“I needed that,” the right-hander said.

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Storen’s spring training has been a work in progress and the reliever acknowledged this afternoon that it’s been incredibly trying for him to struggle for, really, the first time as a major leaguer.

“That’s the game of baseball,” Storen said. “There’s times when it’s going to cut you down and it’s really going to test you. I think this spring has really been a big test for me. Been very frustrating and it’s one of those things. In the end I think it’s going to make me better because I’ve realized… that I can’t just go out there and throw. You can’t just throw your glove out there and expect to get guys out. That’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned.”

Getting guys out was what Storen had been struggling with the most. As his ERA ballooned and the number of multiple-run outings greatly outnumbered the scoreless ones, every appearance seemed to bring with it more frustration. Storen knew what he needed to do when he took the field but was having trouble with the execution.

It led the naturally academic Storen to examine the problem. He watched video long past the usual hours, he worked with pitching coach Steve McCatty, he called old pitching coaches, he appealed to teammates.

Veteran teammates implored him to relax and throw the ball.

So Storen did, along with bringing back a slide step to his delivery that both Matt Stairs and Jayson Werth said was incredibly “irritating” to opposing hitters and the results on Tuesday were fantastic.

With questions about his spot in the Nationals’ bullpen seemingly bubbling to the surface with every rough outing, Storen was brought into a two-run game in the ninth inning and needed just seven pitches to induce a pop out, a ground out and a fly out for the save.

Storen said the slide step helps to disrupt the timing of a hitter and was something he used last year when he was successful at the major league level. It also helps Storen line himself up.

“A lot of hitters go off timing of a leg kick, but for me, biomechanical it actually lines everything up a lot better,” Storen said. “There’s a lot less moving parts and with a lot less moving parts you’re able to be consistent. That’s kind of what I tried to do today, be consistent with my mechanics and just kind of get the ball down. It was a step in the right direction.”

With his body of work from last year in mind, Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said Tuesday that as long as Storen continues to progress the way he has in this outing and a 1.3 inning appearance on Sunday where he allowed two runs off two hits but only one earned run, he will be on the Nationals’ 25-man roster.

“There’s a history there,” Riggleman said. “A track record that he came up and really did a good job for us last year. That’s the sample of work you draw from more than a few spring training outings. Any progress he makes to get away from where he’s been the last couple of weeks, he’ll be on our ball club.

“He’s earned that. There’s a trust level there with what he can do late in the ballgame… Even though he’s a young guy, he was thrown into the fire… (He) answered the bell for us (last year) and I don’t forget that.”