Matt Williams On Drew Storen And His Return To 9th Inning Dominance

Drew Storen #22 of the Washington Nationals reacts after a pitch to a Philadelphia Phillies batter during the ninth inning of a 3-2 Nationals win at Nationals Park on September 7, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Drew Storen #22 of the Washington Nationals reacts after a pitch to a Philadelphia Phillies batter during the ninth inning of a 3-2 Nationals win at Nationals Park on September 7, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images

The date is Oct. 12, 2012. The ballpark is packed to capacity on a chilly night in the United States capital as the NL East champion Washington Nationals are just an out away from advancing the the Championship Series for the first time since the Expos moved to D.C. in 2005. Closer Drew Storen is on to maintain Washington’s two-run lead and take his club to the next round of the postseason.

After walking Yadier Molina and David Freese, Storen allows a game-tying two-run bloop to Daniel Descalso, followed immediately by a two-run single off the bat of Pete Kozmo. Suddenly, the Nats are down two runs in an elimination game in the bottom of the ninth. They have three outs to score two runs and salvage this game in extra innings.

You know the rest of the story … Washington fails to score, and the Nationals are left stunned in a silent home ballpark as the Cards celebrate a dramatic comeback victory. It was a gut-wrenching loss for D.C., and one that has stuck with Storen ever since.

That offseason, Washington went out on the free agent market and signed closer Rafael Soriano. Storen would go on to post a 4.52 ERA in 2013, the worst of his young career, working mostly in the seventh and eighth innings. This season however, he’s returned to form pitching to a stingy 1.29 ERA, and limiting opponents to less than a base runner per inning.

Recently, the tables have turned in Washington, as Soriano has been the reliever facing struggles in the ninth inning. He blew back-to-back save opportunities last week and has allowed nine runs on 12 hits in his last nine appearances. After blowing a three-run lead against the Phillies on Friday, manager Matt Williams decided to make the change at closer. The skipper opted to go closer by committee. and in the club’s most recent three opportunities, he’s called upon Storen to get the job done.

So far, so good. Storen has pitched three perfect frames in those appearances, striking out six of the nine batters he’s faced. Williams, a guest of First Pitch on MLB Network Radio, discussed what he’s seen from Storen since he took over in the ninth.

He’s done a great job all year. Mostly in the seventh inning role, sometimes in the eighth inning role depending on where [Tyler] Clippard has been on his workload. Over the last three, Drew has stepped right in there and closed the door for us. He’s going to throw strikes, he goes right after guys and he’s done really, really well.

With about a half a month remaining in the regular season, Storen could get a chance to redeem himself two years after the most difficult outing of his career. His comeback story will be one of Major League Baseball’s best story lines in October.

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