As soon as Drew Storen’s name was announced in a room full of Nationals fans, the cheers began.
The Walter E. Washington Convention Center was bustling with more than 7,000 fans Saturday afternoon, and those who had made their way to a Q-and-A session with the 25-year-old right-hander and a few of his teammates came to their feet when they heard Storen’s name.
They stood, and they cheered.
The last time he was in front of a crowd of Nationals fans, Storen suffered arguably his darkest moment on a mound. He searched for a strike that wouldn’t come, for an out that seemed perpetually just out of his reach. He wanted to stand there to seal a victory against the St. Louis Cardinals and move on in the playoffs.
It didn’t end that way, his slumped pose in front of his locker that night an indelible image from championship dreams gone awry.
But Saturday, Storen felt the warmth that the loyalty of a fan base can provide, even when the task of moving on becomes complicated by additions that change the roles and can send a cerebral athlete like Storen wondering.
“That’s the type of stuff that really makes you feel special,” Storen said later of the ovation. “The amount of support has been incredible.”
As the Nationals head into spring training, camp for Storen has become perhaps more complex than initially anticipated. There were always going to be questions after the way the 2012 season ended. There was always going to be a need for him to retake a mound and put October out of his mind.
After the season, Storen hung around Washington for a few days, working out at Nationals Park, and then traveled a bit with fellow right-hander Tyler Clippard before spending time with his family in Indiana.
“You’ve got to move on,” Storen said of Game 5 of the National League Division Series. “You take the emotion out of it.
“It’s tougher because you don’t have that game the next day to kind of fix it. … Game 6 was my workouts this offseason. That’s part of the excitement this year, looking forward to being able to correct that situation.”
But when the Nationals signed Rafael Soriano two weeks ago and made it clear he’s here to close games, Storen and Clippard, like most, were caught off guard.
“It was surprising,” Clippard said, recounting how he learned of the deal through a phone call from Storen, who saw the reports on Twitter.
“I think a lot of people were surprised about it just because, coming into the offseason, myself and I think a lot of people didn’t really feel like that was a need for our club.”
Pitching coach Steve McCatty called Clippard and Storen separately to discuss the changing of roles that would commence. And general manager Mike Rizzo spoke with both over the phone and, this weekend, in person to reassure them that the move was not a reflection on their abilities.
“Soriano is a huge move,” said right fielder Jayson Werth. “I thought that was great. I was actually hoping that would happen, silently. I wasn’t reaching out to anyone to get it done or anything, but in that back of my mind, I was like, ‘If we could pick him up and throw him in the back of bullpen and move everybody back a spot, an inning, it would catapult a really good bullpen to the best bullpen.’ “
That was, of course, the point the Nationals’ previous closers needed time to wrap their heads around. Once the shock wore off, both seemed to go through a rationalization process.
They’ll report to Viera, Fla., in two weeks and begin the process of finding their place on the 2013 incarnation of the Nationals, one that will try to find space for three closers.
“There’s no doubt he’s going to make the team better,” Storen said. “Once you kind of find out what’s going on, it’s just a matter of communication. It makes the team better, so that’s what I’m concerned about.”
“We’re all trying to work toward the same goal,” Clippard said. “If we can add a piece of that puzzle that’s going to help us get to where we want to be, if we’re sitting here on Nov. 1 with the trophy for the World Series, nobody’s going to be complaining about anything.”