In a matter of nine months, Drew Storen has gone from Washington Nationals ace closer to an expendable piece who was demoted to Triple-A to “get himself right.”
It all started in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals, when Storen came on the protect a 7-5 Washington lead and get them to the NLCS. Well, as we now know, Storen would not get Washington to the NLCS, as some close pitches would go the Cardinals’ way, and they would score four runs in the ninth and proceed to win the game 9-7. Game 5 was a microcosm of Washington’s offense, both in 2012 and for most of this year: put a crooked number up early, squander opportunities to add on and allow the opponent to chip away.
Storen’s reaction to his Game 5 meltdown was well documented, as Washington beat writers documented how Storen handled himself postgame. These writers would all echo how gracefully Storen handled all the postgame interviews and how his teammates came up to him postgame and hugged him, consoled him and just showed their all around support for the young closer. Storen would stay at his locker for a few hours after the game, until he was finally walked out by roommate and presumably close friend Tyler Clippard.
Now, since he took the reigns, GM Mike Rizzo preached about having depth in the organization and always being able to swap players in and out as needed. Washington’s season ended in complete disappointment, and many saw their lack of playoff experience as a contributor to their playoff meltdown. So, Rizzo went out and acquired some veteran players with some playoff experience in Denard Span, Dan Haren and Rafael Soriano.
The Soriano deal came as a bit of a shock, since Washington had a lights-out pair for the back end of games in Clippard, who saved 32 games in 2012 while Storen, who saved 43 games in 2010, was out. Needless to say, Washington’s signing of Soriano did not seem to make a lot of sense, or did it? Soriano was coming off a 42-save season with the New York Yankees, standing in for the great Mariano Rivera. Soriano, of course, had an opt out in his contract after year two, and after turning down a qualifying offer, was on his way to a team he could close for.
Going with Rizzo’s strategy of making the roster as deep as possible, signing Soriano made a lot of sense. Soriano is a playoff-tested closer who was able to pitch well in probably one of the toughest markets. Soriano’s acquisition, at the time, gave fans the dream of a 7th, 8th and 9th inning closer in Clippard, Storen and Soriano. Soriano did come with his warts, of course, known as being a “prickly personality” and not the best of teammates, as we saw in San Francisco, where Soriano called out Bryce Harper for not making a play on a fly ball, saying his young son could have made that play.
Whether it was Soriano’s personality, the presence of Soriano, or just nightmares of Game 5, Storen was unable to put together a string of strong outings. In six appearances from July 4 to July 14, Storen allowed three runs on four hits in 5.2 innings, striking out seven. In four appearance after that stretch, Storen allowed seven runs on seven hits in three innings pitched, striking out two. The fans had not forgotten about Storen’s Game 5 performance, as more than once, the boo birds, regrettably, made an appearance.
So, who is it to blame for Storen’s 2013 struggles?
In my opinion, it’s more of a group issue. Storen is still very young at 25, which most seem to forget, so he can still be a little impressionable. Storen is, however, a pro and should be able to get past rough outings, regardless of magnitude. That aside, Rizzo going out and getting a veteran closer after Storen’s performance is not exactly a ringing endorsement of your tenth overall pick in 2009. Storen deserves better, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s also up to him to put himself back together, because a bullpen with Storen is a heck of a lot better than one without him.