The Washington Times - July 5, 2012, 08:28PM

Washington Nationals closer Drew Storen got through his first rehab assignment seamlessly with a 1-2-3 inning at Single-A Potomac Thursday night.

Storen, who underwent surgery to remove a bone chip from his right elbow on April 11, has been on the road back to the major leagues for the better part of the last three months. He needed just eight pitches to get through his inning, starting the game for Single-A Potomac, and promptly went to the bullpen to continue throwing when it was over, according to the P-Nats’ PR staff.

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Storen coaxed one pop out to foul ground on the third-base side, one fly out to center field and one ground out to the first baseman. He’s expected to pitch again on Saturday, Monday and Wednesday before the Nationals plan to activate him for the first series of the second half. 

But when he does return, he will not immediately slide back into being the closer. Tyler Clippard has successfully assumed those duties in his absence and Storen will be eased back into life at the major league level by working in a set-up role at first. Nationals manager Davey Johnson said Thursday he’ll be up front with Storen on when he’ll use him and how often in order to help Storen prepare mentally as best he can.

“It’ll be a little different with him,” Johnson said. “I’ll have conversations with him… I think mental preparation is really important to helping performance and when the guys gear up mentally knowing it’s probably going to be them, I think it’s easier to do your job, rather than, ‘Oh, it’s me.’ That kind of deal. It’s no different with him.

“It was easy for him in the past. He knew that he was going to close, at least while I was here. And the only conversations I had with him was if he needed a day off or something. I like to see how he’s throwing, how he’s feeling if he bounces back. I won’t rush him, give him a little time to get loose, that kind of thing.”

It was just about two weeks ago that Johnson said he’d have a hard time going to anyone other than Clippard to close games before “anyone” proved they could do it at the major league level again. Storen said then that he understood that line of thinking, calling baseball a “what have you done for me lately” kind of business and acknowledging that he hasn’t been able to do anything this season.

“Clip’s been doing it up here and doing it very well, as good as anybody in the game,” Johnson said. “Drew was doing as good as anybody in the game last year. If you put his numbers up next to Clip’s, with Clip setting up, his were an awfully close comparison. Different roles. He’ll start out for me seeing how he’s throwing. If I like the way he’s throwing and I feel like he’s able to bounce back, I wouldn’t have any qualms about sliding him in occasionally to take a little off (Clippard).”

If the Nationals get to where they want to be this season and don’t intend on wearing any arms out, eventually, they’re going to need more than one guy who’s closing games for them. Johnson was clear with Storen that just because he’s not going to be closing immediately, it doesn’t mean it’s no longer his job for good.

The Nationals have had a somewhat easy go of keeping their relievers’ arms fresh because their starting pitching has been so good and, most often, pitching deep into games. How their bullpen will shake out once Storen returns and it looks more like the one they thought they’d have in spring training will likely work itself out.

“With starters like we have here, 12 pitchers is more than enough,” Johnson said. “If I had starters like this (in the past), I’d probably have 11 pitches. I hope they are starving for work and the starters keep doing what they’re doing.”