NEW YORK — It’s not the way Nationals fans are used to seeing Drew Storen used out of the bullpen. They’re not used to seeing Storen face one or two batters and have to turn the ball over. But it’s not some hair-brained scheme that Nationals manager Davey Johnson is making up as he goes along from the dugout.
Storen’s usage (he’s made three appearances and faced a total of six batters — including just two batters on Friday night and just one batter on Monday night) is part of the Nationals’ plan to ease him back in at the major league level.
On Monday night, Storen knew he would only face one batter. He needed only two pitches to get Wright to fly out to center and he said it was the best he’s felt since returning from the disabled list.
Storen missed the Nationals’ first 89 games after April 11 surgery to remove a bone chip from his right elbow. He made six minor league rehab appearances, almost always throwing at least a full inning. And he made his first big league appearance in much the same way, pitching the ninth inning of Thursday’s 9-5 win over the Mets.
But just as the Nationals weren’t prepared to just drop Storen, who saved 43 games in 2011, back into the closer’s role when he returned from the DL, the one- and two-batter appearances are also a part of that plan.
Nationals manager Davey Johnson has said several times recently that he’s not entirely comfortable with the current roles in the bullpen. He even reiterated that stance Monday night.
“I’m still organizing the bullpen to where I’m comfortable with it,” Johnson said. “I don’t want to constantly put the heat on Burnett and Clippard. I have a lot of confidence in all the guys out there, I just need to get them in a little more lineups here I feel comfortable with them and they feel comfortable.”
Part of that disorganization, though, is because they are still working to get Storen fully back to the high level he was operating at in 2011.
Storen is completely healthy but he’s basically been through an accelerated spring training and he’s still working to get back to the level he was at last year. It’s not that he’s not ready to be here, or that he can’t get major league hitters out. He can. We’ve seen him.
But while it may look strange to the rest of us to see Storen being used situationally and briefly, the Nationals’ hope is that they’re going about this the right way so that they won’t have to be using him this way for all that much longer.