Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Drew Storen could be the Nats' closer, but he may need some backup.
Drew Storen's ninth-inning meltdown -- four batters, four hits, four runs, game over -- was both staggering and not terribly surprising at the same time. As good as Storen has been this season, the rookie right-hander has not gotten many opportunities to close. And he certainly hadn't faced anything like the scenario presented to him yesterday: trying to protect a ninth-inning lead in a hostile ballpark against the heart of the two-time defending NL champs' lineup.
Now, in the grand scheme of things, the Nationals needed to see Storen in that situation. And Storen needed to pitch in that situation. The only way to find out whether the 23-year-old has the, uh, "onions" to close in the big leagues is to throw him into the fire and see if he comes out unscathed.
Yesterday, Storen got burned to a crisp. Now, the Nats need to find out what happens the next time he finds himself in that situation. Does he let thoughts of this blown save creep into his mind and allow it to happen again? Or does he have that character trait required of all great closers to flush his failure down the toilet and come back strong the next time?
Jim Riggleman was talking the other day in Atlanta about Storen and his bullpen in general, and the experience they've gotten this season.
"It's a good bullpen," the manager said. "It's still evolving. There's still some work to be done. Drew Storen's got a chance to be a real good one down there. But he's going through a learning process of locating his fastball and so forth. It's a talented bullpen that I think this year is really going to pay dividends as they move into next year. There are several guys we know will be back in that bullpen next year who will have a lot of experience this year in big situations, and it's going to help for the future."
Indeed, the Nationals could enter 2011 with Storen, Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard, Joel Peralta, Doug Slaten, Collin Balester, Craig Stammen and maybe even Miguel Batista all in the mix again. It's rare for a bullpen to boast such continuity.
But is that group good enough? As good as their collective numbers have been, might there be something missing?
"Mike Rizzo and I have talked about it a little bit," Riggleman said last week. "We probably need one more veteran-type presence there. [Matt] Capps came and did that for us this year. I know Mike is always going to be trying to improve the club in any area he can. It is a young group, and next year's another year under their belt, but it's still going to be a young group. Another Capps-type person to come in and help out would be huge."
Indeed it would. Last winter, the Nationals desperately needed an experienced closer to come in and seize the ninth-inning role. They don't necessarily need that again if Storen proves capable of handling the job.
But you always want to have a fallback option in case your best-laid plans don't come to fruition. Ideally, the Nats could acquire a veteran with closing experience who could step in to pitch the ninth if needed but would be comfortable pitching in a setup role if not.