ATLANTA -- Drew Storen took another important step today in his return from elbow surgery -- one of his final steps -- when he threw 40 pitches to live hitters in the cage at Turner Field prior to the Nationals' series opener against the Braves.
Though the Nationals aren't setting an exact timetable for the reliever's activation off the disabled list, the club's July 13 second-half opener in Miami is a target date.
"I'd say that's probably a really good timeframe there," maanger Davey Johnson said.
"I mean, it seems logical," Storen added.
Storen, who has yet to pitch this season following surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow, will throw a two-inning, simulated game on Monday in Washington, then begin a rehab assignment with a minor-league affiliate sometime later in the week. That would give him ample time to make several game appearances (including on back-to-back days) before conceivably joining the Nationals for their second-half opener against the Marlins.
Storen was at first surprised during today's live BP session when batters Chad Tracy and Jhonatan Solano were consistently making solid contact off him.
"I was thinking: Man, they're seeing it pretty well," he said.
After the session, Storen learned that bullpen catcher Nilson Robledo was letting the hitters know what pitches were about to be thrown.
"Once I figured that out, I felt much better about it," Storen said.
Storen also feels great about the state of his elbow, which he says feels stronger now than it did while he was recording 43 saves last season. Only now does he realize he was probably dealing with the injury at the time.
"I'm pretty amazed," he said. "Even last year, after you're done [pitching] it would be a little swollen. I just thought that was normal. Now it feels really good."
Though he can see the finish line at last after three months of recovery and rehabilitation, Storen is wary of thinking too far ahead or just assuming he's in the clear now.
"This last 10 percent of the rehab is just as important as the beginning," he said. "It's kind of like doing a big school project. You've just got to do the annoying little things. You've got to do the bibliography. You really don't want to do it, but you're going to get counted off if you don't."