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As Nationals soar, so does dominant Storen

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As Nationals soar, so does dominant Storen

Major-league closers, like NFL kickers and the sanitation department, only draw your attention when something goes wrong. We just expect them to work flawlessly, and if everything goes according to plan, we don't even notice them.

Drew Storen, though, deserves our attention right now, because he has been just as responsible for the Nationals' prolonged, dominant stretch of baseball — Monday's 2-1 win over the Cubs was their 20th in their last 25 games — as anybody. Fourteen of these 20 victories have come by 3 or fewer runs, and Storen has been the last pitcher on the mound for the Nats in 12 of those games.

And in those 12 games, plus two more appearances he's made since the hot streak began April 28 in Atlanta, Storen hasn't allowed any opposing player to cross the plate. Not one.

That's 14 scoreless appearances totaling 13 1/3 innings. Storen has faced 48 batters during that time. Only eight have reached base (five hits, one walk, two hit batters). Seventeen, on the other hand, have struck out.

And it's not like Storen was struggling prior to that point, even though the Nationals as a whole were. For the season, he now sports an 0.93 ERA, having allowed only 13 hits and three walks over 19 1/3 innings while striking out 25. He has recorded an NL-best 14 saves in 15 tries.

Want even more evidence of Storen's dominance? He has given up one extra-base hit all season: a 1-out double to Grady Sizemore during Sunday's 4-1 win over the Phillies.

So, what exactly has made Storen so effective over the last seven weeks? Manager Matt Williams believes it's the fact he's using his full repertoire to perfection.

"I just think his secondary pitches have been crisp," Williams said Saturday while citing the previous evening's save against Philadelphia. "Last night's an example. He got [Ryan] Howard on breaking balls and change-ups, then he was able to elevate the fastball to [Odubel] Herrera to get him for the last out. That's a byproduct of him being able to throw the change-up for a strike and the slider for a strike and elevate the fastball when he needs to, especially against a left-handed hitter. I just think he's throwing it where he wants to."

Indeed, Storen's command has been excellent to date; he's throwing 66 percent of his pitches for strikes. But it's more than that. He's also throwing strikes that aren't hittable. A full 25.5 percent of his strikes have been swing-and-miss, the highest rate of his career and a full 10 percent better than the MLB average.

And Storen also has been very efficient. He hasn't thrown more than 20 pitches in any appearance this season, and he's averaging a mere 3.6 batters faced per inning (he's retired the side 12 times in 21 games).

Put that all together, and you've got one of the most dominant closers in baseball so far this season. Which, really, is just a continuation of 2014, when Storen led all NL relievers with a 1.12 ERA. Which, really, is just a continuation of the final two months of 2013, when Storen returned from a brief demotion to Class AAA Syracuse and regained his form.

In fact, take every MLB reliever who has thrown at least 30 innings since Aug. 16, 2013 (the day Storen was called back up to Washington) and nobody can match his 1.13 ERA.

Does he still need to prove he can get the job done in October after two notable blown saves? Of course. But that's a story for another day, well down the road.

Right now, Storen is near-perfect in the ninth inning. And because of that, the Nationals have been near-perfect for the last four weeks.

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

WASHINGTON -- Juan Soto, the youngest player in the majors at 19, hit a three-run homer in his first career start as the Washington Nationals defeated the San Diego Padres 10-2 on Monday.

Mark Reynolds had two solo home runs for the Nationals, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Bryce Harper had a homer and an RBI double.

Soto's drive highlighted a five-run second inning for Washington. The promising outfielder, who played for three minor league teams this season, hit the first pitch from Robbie Erlin (1-3) over the Nationals bullpen in left-center field. Soto also singled.

Soto's homer traveled an estimated 442 feet at Nationals Park. He earned a standing ovation from the crowd and the teenager responded by taking a curtain call. Per Baseball-Reference.com, Soto became the first teenager to hit a home run in a major league game since Harper on Sept. 30, 2012.

Called up to Washington on Sunday, Soto became the first 19-year-old to make his major league debut since Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias in 2016. He entered that game in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter and struck out.

Washington's starting left fielder began the season at Class A Hagerstown. He hit a combined .362 with 14 homers and 52 RBIs in his three minor league stops.

Gio Gonzalez (5-2) allowed two runs and two hits in seven innings.

San Diego's Franmil Reyes, playing in his seventh career game, also hit his first career home run.

Trea Turner hit a pair of RBI doubles for Washington. Reynolds had three hits.

Erlin surrendered six runs and seven hits over four innings in his third start of the season. San Diego had won three in a row.

Reyes connected for a two-run homer in the fourth inning, but the Padres' lineup generated little else against Gonzalez, who allowed one run over six innings in a no-decision at San Diego on May 9.

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.

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Juan Soto crushes a homer in the first at-bat of his first-ever start

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Juan Soto crushes a homer in the first at-bat of his first-ever start

Juan Soto, the highly-regarded 19-year-old Nationals' prospect, got his first major league start of his career tonight. 

How did it go, you ask? Surely it would take Soto - who was in Single-A less than two weeks ago - some time to adjust? 

What were you doing at 19??

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.