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[Updated 3:48 p.m.]
By Mark Zuckerman and Chase Hughes
Desperately in need of some late-inning relief help, the Nationals today recalled Drew Storen from Class AAA, optioning struggling right-hander Ryan Mattheus to Syracuse.
Storen, who had been demoted only three weeks ago, returned to Washington this morning and is available to pitch in this afternoon's series finale against the Giants.
Storen was sick with the flu the last game he pitched for the Nats and said he took a few days to recuperate before heading to Syracuse. Those days of rest helped the news set in and Storen emerge with a more positive outlook on the experience.
"It was sort of a forced relaxation, so it took a couple days to go down there and like I said, worrying about all that other stuff that you can’t control and what’s already happened won’t do you any good, so you got to make the most of any situation. I had a good opportunity to get better and get back to being myself and it’d be stupid of me to waste it. So that’s how I look at it.
Storen now returns looking for a fresh start and an opportunity to help his team salvage their season. He called the feeling of being demoted compared with this recent call-up as "polar opposites."
"I’m pretty damn happy about it, to be honest with you," he said. "The way I look at it, in general with this whole year, this is kind of like Opening Day for me right now. It’s like five weeks or six weeks left, whatever it is, of the regular season, and just help these guys win and really get after it. I can’t really control or change what’s happened this year, but one thing I can do is really be productive at the end and help these guys win. So I’m excited to get back."
The Nationals didn't intend to bring Storen back so soon, preferring the right-hander spent more time in Syracuse as part of an overhaul of both his mechanics and his mental approach. But with the big-league bullpen struggling mightily right now in spite of the club's five-game winning streak, general manager Mike Rizzo made the decision to bolster his relief corps with the only available option he had with a proven track record.
Storen has now adjusted his motion to bring his leg higher as he steps towards the plate. He had unique move where he dragged his left leg and that has been done away with. Storen said the transition was rather easy because the new one is similar to how he tossed during warmups anyways.
He also began his stint in Syracuse going with a full windup altogether to ease into the new motion.
"I started at first throwing with a windup just to get a feel for the rhythm of a leg kick and I guess just getting the flow of everything down. But I knew I’d just go out of the stretch to keep things simple," he said. "It’s what I’d been doing for years before anyways, so it’s just getting back to what made me successful."
Storen thinks the new motion could make the difference as he started to see the results this past week in Syracuse.
"I think it was definitely mechanics. It was good to get back to throwing athletically and not having to think about it so much. I was getting to the point where I was thinking a little bit too much about what I needed to do mechanically instead of just lifting and throwing and throwing strikes and attacking the hitters. So it was good to make that adjustment and I’m ready to go."
The experience also helped Storen realize how great his support system is. Not just with teammates, but his friends and family. He was touched with all those who reached out to help him through the demotion.
"It’s easy for people to support you when things are going well, but when you really get tested and things don’t go as planned, that’s when you really see. I’ve been very fortunate to have friends and family that have supported me through everything. Including teammates, too. That’s definitely been the silver lining of the thing."
One of Storen's teammates in particular, Tyler Clippard, was vocal in his disagreement with the team sending Storen down. He was critical of the organization in how they handled the situation and Storen is thankful for Clippard having the guts to actually say what he did.
"It meant a lot to me," Storen said. "What he said, regardless of what you think of the comments, just for him to stand up for me like that really means a lot and shows you what a great friend and even better teammate he is. It takes a lot."
Manager Davey Johnson is glad to have Storen back and plans to use him in late innings relief situations, just like he has the last few years.
"He needed a change of scenery just to get back to being Drew," Johnson said.
Storen was sent down three weeks ago after posting a 5.95 ERA in 47 games, a move made to clear space in the big-league bullpen for Mattheus, who was returning from a broken hand. Storen struggled in his first three outings in the minors, giving up four earned runs on seven hits, but he bounced back to toss three consecutive scoreless games without putting a runner on base.
Mattheus struggled mightily upon his return from the DL, putting 18 men on base in only 6 2/3 innings. He faced six batters over the last two nights and retired only one.
Johnson needed somebody more reliable with the games meaning more and more, as the Nats continue clinging to hopes of a NL Wild Card berth.
"For us to win a bunch of games I needed that late inning stopper. Mattheus since coming back, his command and his pitches haven’t been as sharp as they were prior to slamming that locker. For an immediate need, we need somebody who at least knows he can do it," he said.
Storen says that after going down to Triple-A, he is now much more appreciative of the opportunity to play in the major leagues. He thinks being sent down could be beneficial for him moving forward, but also acknowledges there's only one way to find out.
"That’s what I’m going to show you right here."