NEW YORK — Washington Nationals closer Drew Storen suffered a setback in his rehabilitation from right elbow joint inflammation on Sunday when he felt tenderness following a simulated game. Storen will visit with renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews on Tuesday for a second opinion.
Right now the Nationals appear to be satisfied that an MRI arthrogram taken in March showed no structural ligament damage in Storen’s elbow. But that same MRI, which involves a dye injected into the area to get the clearest picture, also revealed a “loose body” and the Nationals’ closer could be dealing with bone chips.
“Hopefully it’s nothing serious,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. “But it doesn’t sound good to me.”
Storen, who saved 43 games for the Nationals in 2012, was shut down during spring training after feeling a similar kind of tenderness in his elbow following just two game appearances. He returned to Washington for the MRI arthrogram on March 22, and was relieved when it showed no issues with his ulnar collateral ligament, the one Tommy John surgery is performed on, but also revealed a small loose body in the area.
They felt then that it was likely something Storen had had for some time, and the thought was that rest and medication would probably allow him to pitch through it.
“Obviously that aggravated after he threw to hitters again,” Johnson said.
The Nationals are leery of jumping to a conclusion before Storen visits with Andrews but if it is bone chips and requires surgery to remove them, recovery time can range anywhere from two to four months before he’s back in the major leagues. Former Nationals starter Jason Marquis dealt with bone chips in his elbow early in the 2010 season. He had surgery to remove them on May 14 and did not make his next major league start until Aug. 8 that year. As a closer, Storen could require less time to build up than someone like Marquis once he is healthy.
Before he faced hitters for the first time on Sunday in the simulated game, Storen hadn’t had any issues with his rehab. He’d progressed from playing long toss to throwing off a mound in bullpen sessions without incident, and even got through his bullpen warmup on Sunday without a problem. But when he ramped up to face hitters, he felt what Johnson described as “fallback pain.”
“Alarm bells went up on him after he threw the (sim game),” Johnson said.
The same logic that the Nationals used when taking Storen along slowly in the spring still applies as they plan to need him for important games late in the season. The feeling behind sending him for another opinion was even if it was a slight discomfort they should allow him a re-examination and proceed from there.
For now, the Nationals will continue to use Brad Lidge and Henry Rodriguez in the closer role in Storen’s absence. Each picked up a save over the weekend in Chicago.
The Nationals are well-equipped to handle the loss of any of their relievers, perhaps more so this season than in years past, with a great deal of depth in that area. But the loss of their closer for an extended period would still hurt.
Storen didn’t pick up his first save last year until April 17 as the Nationals used a number of relievers to close games early. He also didn’t begin saving games with regularity until May — and still managed to earn 43 saves on a team that finished the year one game under .500.
“I felt like last year we had one of the best bullpens in the National League,” Johnson said. “With the addition of Brad Lidge we got even more depth. But any time you lose somebody of the stature of Storen… that’s a big concern of mine.
“I love my bullpen. I think it’s very capable. Thank goodness we have enough depth to hold us in there until he gets back.”