Associated Press photo
Brad Lidge is one of manager Davey Johnson's backup closer candidates.
Johnson said this morning he would likely go with Brad Lidge or Henry Rodriguez in the ninth inning if Storen isn't ready by Opening Day.
"Those are the only two I'm willing to throw out there at this time," the manager said.
Lidge, 35, has by far the most closing experience on the staff, having saved 223 games for the Astros and Phillies over the last nine seasons. Though the right-hander's fastball velocity isn't what it once was, his slider remains as sharp as ever, and he's pitched well this spring (allowing one earned run over five innings, striking out seven without walking a batter).
Rodriguez, meanwhile, may have the best pure "stuff" on the entire pitching staff. The 25-year-old right-hander regularly reaches triple digits with his fastball and did record two saves late last season.
That may sound like a slight on Tyler Clippard, the Nationals' All-Star set-up man, but Johnson finds him too valuable in his current role pitching out of jams in the seventh and eighth innings.
"The role that he played last year during the season -- and I watched a lot of his appearances -- it's hard to replace that, what he did," the manager said. "I mean, what he did last year was at least as important, if not more important, than the closer.
"It goes back to the old adage: You want to avoid from weakening two positions. I keep that in mind all the time."
All of these contingency plans may be for naught if Storen is ready to pitch come Opening Day. The young closer has been dealing with arm soreness and strep throat and hasn't pitched in a game since March 7.
An MRI taken on Storen's elbow this week revealed no damage to either the ligament or tendon, only joint inflammation. He's expected to resume throwing on Tuesday or Wednesday. At that point, he'll have to see if he can build up enough appearances and innings to be ready for the April 5 opener in Chicago.
Ideally, Johnson would like Storen to make several game appearances and even pitch on back-to-back days. That may not be possible given the limited timeframe, so Storen may have to open the season on the disabled list and then return sometime in mid-April.
"I'm not saying it's out of the question for him to break with us," Johnson said. "But I'm going to prepare my staff for the opener with the possibility that Storen might not be my closer because of being cautious and making sure he's going to be 100 percent right."