Sunday, May 16, 2010

The future is now

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Jim Riggleman will have a new relief option to call upon tomorrow.
DENVER -- Mike Rizzo never had a set date in mind for Drew Storen's big-league debut. Rizzo's seen enough pitchers develop over the years, and he knows you don't call them up until they're ready for the challenge.

With Storen, of course, it was never a question of whether he'd be ready for the challenge, just a matter of when. And it's been obvious for several weeks now that the kid is ready.

But there were other factors that went into Rizzo's decision to purchase Storen's contract and fly him to St. Louis to make his major-league debut tomorrow. For one thing, Rizzo wanted to reward the reliever for signing immediately after the draft last summer. It will forever be noted now that Storen reached the majors before Stephen Strasburg, even if only by a couple of weeks. And there's a good chance Storen will attain "Super 2" status because of this move and thus be eligible for arbitration after 2012 instead of 2013. (Either way, he still won't be able to become a free agent until after the 2016 season.)

More than that, though, the timetable for Storen's promotion became clearer because the Nationals genuinely need him right now. You can make a legitimate case that between the two, Storen would actually be more valuable to this team right now than Strasburg. Obviously, Strasburg's arrival in two weeks or so will benefit the club. How could it not? But more than a dominant ace, the Nationals need another reliable reliever.

That much was obvious this weekend at Coors Field, where the Nats dropped three of four to the Rockies, all three losses in tight games decided late. You think Storen's presence might have helped turn at least one of those games? I do.

Had Storen been here this weekend, Jim Riggleman might well have summoned him to pitch the seventh inning last night instead of leaving Sean Burnett in for two. Storen certainly would have found his way into the first game of yesterday's doubleheader, pitching instead of Brian Bruney (who turned a manageable 3-2 deficit into a 6-2 blowout). And it's quite possible Riggleman would have turned to Storen sometime this afternoon during a 2-1 loss that ultimately fell on Tyler Clippard's shoulders.

It's hard to fault Clippard, because he's been so good all season. And he didn't exactly blow this game today. He merely walked the leadoff man in the eighth, then watched as the Rockies played small ball to bring him around for the winning run.

Clippard, though, can't be counted upon every single time the Nationals are in a tight ballgame. He was well-rested this afternoon, having not pitched since Wednesday in New York. But from a mental standpoint, he could probably use a break and be given a chance to pitch in a lopsided game every once in a while.

"[The three days off] helped," he said. "I needed the rest. I was pitching a lot. My arm felt really good today. I've been feeling really good. It's just one of those things: When you're in a tie ballgame, you can't let the leadoff guy get on, and that's what I did today."

There's no way to know whether Storen would have succeeded where Clippard didn't. But at the very least, it's nice to know Riggleman will now have the option of one or the other.

The manager has tried his best to use the rest of his relief corps in advantageous situations, and Burnett and Tyler Walker have been better in recent weeks at coming through when called upon. But the guy who was supposed to be there all along for such tense situations, Bruney, was a disaster.

So the veteran right-hander was designated for assignment following today's game. It's a tough pill to swallow both for the Nationals (who are paying him $1.5 million) and for Bruney (a prideful man who took the news with class).

"I'm not much of a help to this team right now," he said. Later, he added: "I dug myself a hole, and I tried to get out of it and I think I pressed a little too much and tried a little bit too hard, and this is where it ended up. I don't blame anybody. I appreciate the opportunity. They gave me plenty of opportunities to succeed, and it just wasn't there."

Thus, Bruney exits stage right and Storen enters stage left, hoping his dominance at the minor-league level will translate to the big leagues. There's plenty of evidence to suggest it will. He's got a solid arsenal of pitches. He throws strikes as well as anybody in baseball. And most importantly, he's got the mindset needed to thrive as a big-league reliever.

Riggleman won't hesitate to throw Storen into the fire. The manager said he'll use him "anywhere from that sixth inning through the eighth."

On a larger scale, this is a milestone event for the Nationals. For four years now, ownership has touted its plan for long-term success, built primarily through the draft. Until this season, the only real, bonafide products of that system were Ryan Zimmerman and John Lannan.

Now, though, those two have been joined by Ian Desmond and Roger Bernadina (who were both actually drafted by the Expos) and Craig Stammen. Ross Detwiler and Jordan Zimmermann could join the mix in the next few months. Strasburg's arrival is imminent.

And Storen is now part of the club as well.

"Obviously, any organization that's going to win year-in and year-out, you have to draft well and develop your guys," Zimmerman said. "You can't just go out and get everyone [via free agency]. I think it shows how good Mike and Stan [Kasten] have been. It's a compliment to them how they've drafted. It's cool to see that happen."

Piece by piece, the Nationals are building a winner. And after watching his team drop three winnable games over the weekend, Rizzo made the logical decision to add another piece to the mix.

Not only because Storen is ready. But because the Nationals are ready to win, and Storen can help make that happen.


Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said...

You nailed it, Mark. This team is in this thing, and figures to be all season long, at least for the wild card. Storen is needed now, as a 7th and 8th inning guy, so that Clipp doesn't make 120 appearances. The choice of B. Bruney to walk the plank was just so obvious. If any MLB team claims this guy, we ought to offer them a two-fer: throw in Elijah Dukes too.

Anonymous said...

In addition to a quicker trip to the bigs, Storen is also getting to debut in St. Louis, only a 3 1/2 hour drive for Indiana family and friends to see his debut.

TheBorg said...

i hope Bruney passes thru waivers, and accepts the assignment to Syracuse. he's too good to pitch this way. but i agree with his DFA: he CAN NOT be relied upon right now for a .500 team.

Anonymous said...

I'm happy you said good things about Bruney, Mark. Some of the commenters on the previous thread were way too harsh. His pitching wasn't adequate, but that's not a moral issue. Baseball is harshly competitive at best--psychologically rough on any player who is not a star. (Jim Bouton's book is very good on this.) Fans shouldn't make it any worse than it has to be.

Grandstander said...

Hey, I'd be willing to send over Batista for a case of beer if anyone would bite on Bruney.

Somebody call the pirates and see if they want anyone else!

Doc said...

I guess Bruney summed up his own status failures. Unfortunately, he has some great stuff that needs to be harnessed. He's done it before, and the Nats thought that he could do it again.

Maybe the next time around there's a pitching coach who can get him in gear. Everybody on the Nats coaching side did their best and kept the faith, until it was no longer viable for the good of the team---a little like Dukes, but for different reasons.

Anonymous said...

Bernadina was not drafted he was signed as a non-drafted free agent. Very good story though.

JayB said...

ANON8....Mark agrees with me that Storen could have changed the outcome of games in May....He talks to at least one this weekend alone...I say 4 in May.....try not to let your hatred of me get in the way of your IQ

Dryw Loves the Nats said...

Mark, another very well written post. I'm really enjoying your blog.

I'm also glad that someone out there can acknowledge that Strasburg is not the only valuable member of the pitching staff! I mean, no matter how good the guy is, he is only going to be pitching every fifth day, and I agree with you that right now we need a solid reliever more.

Go Nats! Time to get back on the winning track tonight...

Kevin Rusch, Section406 said...

On a somewhat different topic, where's the offense? Is the offensive hole in RF and Nyjer Morgan's reversion to the mean the explanation? We're certainly getting more offense from C, and that's great. But is the automatic out in RF breaking our run-scoring machine?

Anonymous said...

Bernadina is hitting .304. In the past seven days he has an OPS of 1.067. What right field hole? Morse went 2 for 3 as did Guzman. Morgan has been very ineffective against left-handed pitching. Ian Desmond is still learning to hit the major league pitchers he is finally getting a chance to face. You can't rely forever on Ivan Rodriguez in the heart of the order. Zimmerman, Dunn, and Willingham have to be consistently productive together for this offense to work. Otherwise, you get the low scoring small ball games.

Doc said...

Speaking of the future, are the Reds outscouting the Nats, and everybody else, in Latin America?? Looks like it!

Anonymous said...

is washington nationals first base Dan Radison from Columbia,IL, son of Pete & Norma Radison?

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