Why Storen’s scoreless inning mattered

By Tom Schad | Associate Reporter

Thursday night’s game featured two young aces, two home runs, two wall-crashing catches, a game-saving snag, a sacrifice squeeze and a small fire. So in the middle of all that, it would have been easy to miss (or see and eventually forget about) Drew Storen’s scoreless eighth inning.

Storen struck out the top of the D-backs lineup, setting down Gerardo Parra, Aaron Hill and Paul Goldschmidt in order with 15 pitches. Storen struck out the side for the first time all season, but that’s not what made his outing noteworthy. He also kept the game tied at 2, though that’s not what made it important.

Storen’s scoreless eighth inning mattered because for perhaps the first time all season, he pitched like a closer. He was nothing short of dominant, attacking the strike zone with four different pitches — including the changeup that he developed last season. He finished all three of his strikeouts with offspeed stuff: changeup, slider, changeup.

“When I got hurt last year, I told myself I had to work on a changeup because you see these guys and they make adjustments to you,” Storen said. “No matter how good your breaking ball is, if they’ve seen you a couple times, it’s not really going to do you a whole lot of good. So you’ve got to be able to have something else to throw in there and get somebody out with your fastball, and that’s been working out pretty well so far.”

One of the lasting images of the 2012 season is Storen sitting alone at his locker after blowing a save in Game 5 of the NLDS. His confidence was shaken, and he continued to struggle early in the season. After Thursday night, it looks like he might have turned a corner. He has not allowed an earned run in 14 of his past 15 appearances.

“He’s starting to pitch more instead of just throw, which he did for me in 2011,” manager Davey Johnson said. “He was good against both left and right [handed hitters], and this year I think coming back, starting a new role, he was just more interested in trying to overpower them.”

The Nationals have bolstered their bullpen with lefties Fernando Abad and Ian Krol, whose reliability as the season wears on could play a significant role in this team’s fate. But a confident, closer-ready Storen is the key. If he returns to old form, he will have a stabilizing effect on the bullpen and give Johnson some much-needed wiggle room late in the game.

After all, not everybody is cut out for high-pressure situations — like, for instance, the eighth inning of a tie game against one of the best teams in the National League. Storen, however, lives for it.

“I’ve always kind of thrived off that, I always enjoy pitching in those situations,” he said with a shrug. “I guess that’s a good thing to have.”

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