With a four-week recovery timetable and just 17 games left on the Nationals' regular season schedule, the chances of Drew Storen playing again in 2015 are very slim. And to have that sudden end caused by a self-inflicted wound has made the last week or so even harder to swallow for the Nats reliever.
On Thursday, Storen explained what happened the night of Sept. 9 when he broke his right thumb following an outing against the Mets. He has been through some pretty tough moments during his MLB career, but this was among the very worst.
"I'm obviously disappointed. I wasn't really trying to do any harm," he said. "I just kind of shoved my locker and caught the metal on the side there. Obviously it was not in a good spot. It's frustrating. It's one of those things where I was in the moment as a competitor. I was frustrated with my outing, but I had no intention… I'm not the type of guy to punch a wall or do something like that. That's not what I was aiming for."
Storen felt discomfort in his right hand, but did not know something was seriously wrong until he played catch two days later in Miami. Throwing his slider, in particular, revealed enough pain to convince him to get it checked out. The Nationals took X-rays and discovered a small, non-displaced fracture.
Upon hearing his diagnosis, Storen approached manager Matt Williams to tell him he was sorry.
"I told him 'look, I apologize. I feel bad as a competitor. That wasn't my intention to do something to myself and put my health in jeopardy.' He understood," Storen said.
The injury came on the heels of two disastrous outings against the Mets. On Sept. 8 he allowed a bases-clearing double and walked in another runner as New York tied a game they would eventually win. Then, on Sept. 9 he served up a two-run homer to Yoenis Cespedes, as the Mets swept the Nationals and essentially locked up the NL East in the process.
Those two appearances capped off an unfortunate month for Storen. In Storen's first 43 games this season he held a 1.52 ERA (7 ER, 41.1 IP). In his last 15 games he gave up 14 earned runs in 13 2/3 innings pitched (9.22 ERA).
Now Storen will likely have to wait until 2016 to have an opportunity to bounce back. Opening Day is almost seven months away, a long time to process all that went wrong.
Storen, however, believes he can rebound just like he has from other low points in his career.
"You just keep plugging away. You learn that you can't change things that have happened. You gotta really look forward and make the most of whatever opportunity you have in front of you. It's just part of the game. It's going to test you. You're going to have your ups and your downs. It can beat you up a little bit. But as long as you make the most of it, things are going to work out in the end," he said.
Storen could rehab on his own, but has chosen to stay with the team for the remaining three weeks of the season. He has been with the Nationals his entire MLB career since getting selected by the franchise in the first round of the 2009 draft. He has played with many of his teammates for years, including Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann, who are both free agents after this season.
"That's the reason why I'm here and why I want to support those guys. We've been through a lot," Storen said. "Those guys have been cornerstones of this organization. Who's to say what is going to happen, but that's why everyone is plugging away. That's part of what this group is all about. It's a bunch of great guys and great teammates. That's why I'm going to make sure I'm here to support them."
Storen's own future is unclear, as well. He has one more year on his contract and was supplanted as closer in July when the Nats dealt for Jonathan Papelbon.
Whatever happens this offseason, Storen believes the last month should not diminish what he has otherwise been able to accomplish as a major league pitcher.
"I feel like I bring a lot to the table. I've been here for a while. This last month and the struggles, that's not me. I've had some tough times, but I've also come through and dealt with frustrating times and adversity and gotten through it better. I look forward to it being the same this time," he said.