It’s been more than two years since Nationals reliever Drew Storen walked into a major league clubhouse for the first time. But his recollection of that day is as vivid as ever.
“I got there super early,” said Storen, who made his debut in a May 17, 2010 loss to the St. Louis. “I kind of just felt like I was the bat boy.”
Storen said it was advice from the veterans that helped him get past the intimidation of his first season in the big leagues and eventually settle into his role.
And it’s that kind of continued mentorship that has not only helped the Nationals’ current rookies thrive, but also allowed them to lead a squad that has been plagued by injuries throughout the season.
“Me, [Bryce] Harper, Tyler [Moore], we’re always sitting with the older guys, picking their brains, asking them questions,” rookie Steve Lombardozzi said. “If they see stuff that they think they can help with, they’re letting us know all the time.”
Four rookies have played in at least four games for the Nationals, combining for 33 RBI and almost 20 percent of the team’s hits (105 of 530).
Harper and Lombardozzi, who have made 43 and 32 starts, own the Nationals’ top two batting averages. Harper is hitting .294 and Lombardozzi is at .268. In the 44 games he’s played, Harper has gone hitless in just 13.
Being able to count on his young players has allowed Washington Manager Davey Johnson to breathe a little easier, despite injuries that have kept experienced players such as Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse off the field.
The rookies’ accomplishments, though, aren’t just a testament to their hard work. They’re also a reflection, Johnson said, of the approachability of the veterans in the clubhouse — a quality that makes Johnson especially proud.
“[The rookies] seem to come in and fit in,” Johnson said. “Everybody kind of opens their arms and welcomes them. I think we have a nice, relaxed clubhouse, so when the stress of the game comes on, they’re fully focused.”
But just like the most experienced of players, along with the successes come the occasional missteps. In Sunday’s 4-1 loss to the Yankees, rookie catcher Jhonatan Solano had two passed balls in one inning, one of which allowed a run. The day before, Harper, who leads the team in on-base percentage, went 0 for 7, striking out five times.
Those are the times when a little bit of veteran advice can come in handy.
After Harper’s performance Saturday, first baseman Adam LaRoche told the 19-year-old slugger not to worry about his off day. “Hurt them tomorrow,” LaRoche said.
Even though the Nationals lost again Sunday, Harper finished 2 for 4 with a double. It’s the kind of solid performance he’s already being counted on to provide.
Harper and the rest of the rookies have been delivering. Sometimes, all it takes to get going is a little help from their friends.
“A lot of the credit has to be given to those guys like Mark DeRosa, Xavier Nady and some of those veteran guys that are really good teammates that have helped them out,” Storen said. “The great thing about this game is, you don’t need to reinvent it. There’s people who have been doing it well for a long time.”
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