The familiar strands of Bad Company came pulsing through the speakers at Nationals Park on Thursday afternoon, just as the top of the ninth inning was set to begin. It had been 296 days since Drew Storen last stood there, last ran in to an ovation like the one he got from what was left of the 36,389 in attendance on Thursday.
“It’s hard to explain,” Storen said of the moment he began his jog from the Nationals’ bullpen to the mound.
“But it is honestly one of the best feelings in the world. I went out there and picked up the ball and just kind of took a deep breath and thought: ‘This feels really good.’ It was nice.”
Storen, just more than three months out from surgery to remove a bone chip in his right elbow, returned to the major leagues with a spotless 1-2-3 inning against the heart of the New York Mets’ order.
“It was pretty emotional for me, to be honest with you,” Storen said. “It really means a lot. It makes the four months or whatnot feel a little bit shorter.”
He saved 43 games for the Nationals in 2011. How he’ll be used in the remaining 72 regular season games for the Nationals has yet to be decided. For now, they’ll continue to ease him back into things. Johnson was thrilled he was able to get Storen into a low-pressure situation, the Nationals losing 9-4 at the time.
“I thought he was a little rusty but he threw strikes and they certainly weren’t centering on them,” Johnson said.
Storen threw nine pitches in the inning: seven sinkers, a slider and a changeup. The sinker was 92-93 and had strong movement on it — something Storen said he worked through his rehab to improve on.
“That’s actually something I’ve been working on, something that has improved a lot,” he said. “Last year I had good movement on my two-seamer and I could throw it, but it faded. Now I feel like I’ve got a little more depth to it. It’s all I threw. I didn’t throw any four-seamers today. And I felt good throwing it.”
There’s also the added bonus that it makes Storen’s breaking ball, which at times can be an absolutely filthy slider, all the tougher to pick up.
“No doubt,” Storen said, asked if having a moving sinker would help improve his slider. “You see the best guys in the game throw that same pitch for 58 feet and then it goes one way or the other. It’s all about tricking the hitter and trying to have a little deception there.”
For Storen, though, as nice as the performance was, just being able to have it was something he made sure to savor. He joked on Twitter early Thursday afternoon that it was a big day for him — one he’d been waiting for for months — now that the new Batman move: The Dark Knight Rises was set to open.
More seriously, though, Storen reflected on the past few months and what it had been like for him to be away from the Nationals this season. He was happy to back.
“It’s not that you take your health for granted,” he said. “But it makes you appreciate being healthy and being out there and putting that jersey on, and regardless being out there and facing some of the best hitters in the world.
“The emotions were high for me. It was good, because I had to kind of tell myself to slow down and be under control.”