- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 4, 2015

Drew Storen has been one of the best closers in baseball this season. But by losing six of their past eight games, the Washington Nationals haven’t given him many recent chances to flourish.

With just one save opportunity in the past six games, Storen has had to search for ways to stay in rhythm on the mound.

“You’re going to have streaks where you’re itching to get into a game, and there’s points in the season where you’re dying for a day off,” Storen said Thursday. “I just kind of do the same thing every day — get some flat ground work in, make sure you still have that command.”

With 17 saves on the season, Storen entered Thursday’s series opener against the Chicago Cubs tied with Trevor Rosenthal for the National League lead. Storen took over the closer role after the departure of veteran Rafael Soriano this past offseason. His miniscule 0.81 ERA through 23 appearances ranked third among NL relievers, and his 28 strikeouts were tied for ninth.

“It’s the way he’s always been,” manager Matt Williams said earlier this week. “[It’s how he was] the second half of last year, given the opportunity and when provided the opportunity to get in there and close. It’s the way he’s always been. He relishes the opportunity to be the closer. He enjoys it and is fired up about it when he comes in there. He’s doing a nice job.”

Storen has progressed on the mound in part because of his increased role in the bullpen over the years. Since undergoing surgery in 2012 to remove bone fragments in his right elbow, the Indianapolis native has slowly crept back into the limelight. From an experience of that nature, Storen learned how to avoid overworking his arm while still keeping himself ready.

“It’s really important to not try to do too much,” Storen said, “because sometimes, as a bullpen guy, [when] you’re coming out there and you feel good it actually can be a bad thing because you try to throw too much. If anything, you take a little bit off.”

With Craig Stammen out for the season with a torn flexor tendon, the burden has become heavier for Storen. He is the lone constant in a bullpen that has gone through a multitude of changes this season, involving players such as Taylor Hill, A.J. Cole, and Felipe Rivero. Injuries have also plagued the bullpen this year, sidelining Sammy Solis and Casey Janssen, among others.

“We have a lot of young guys that have good stuff and we’re getting them experience,” Storen said. “Guys like Casey and Matt [Thornton], and then eventually me, they play a big part of the bullpen. It’s our job to shorten deficits and when we’re down one or two runs, those are the games when you want to keep the offense within striking distance.”

Last week’s series against the Cubs proved to be a sequence of pitcher’s duels, so Storen will likely be seeing the field in some low scoring games again this weekend. With two saves under his belt against Chicago, confidence is the least of Storen’s worries, no matter how many opportunities he’s receiving.

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