By Ben Raby
WOODBRIDGE, VA. The game-time temperature was 97 degrees at Pfitzner Stadium, but starting pitcher Drew Storen could not have been comfortable.
The Washington Nationals closer made his first of four scheduled rehab appearances Thursday night for Single-A Potomac as he nears a return to the Nats bullpen. Storen said afterwards that he was pain free.
It felt great, he said. The mechanics felt really good I just wanted to be down in the zone and sink my sinker and I thought I did a good job doing that. So I was happy with how everything went and I felt that I was commanding the strike zone well.
Storen pitched in a live game Thursday for the first time since Spring Training and threw a scoreless first inning without allowing a base runner. He needed just eight pitches to retire the only three Frederick Keys he faced.
The 24-year-old has missed the entire season after undergoing surgery to remove a bone chip in his right elbow in April.
I didnt feel like I had to put any restrain on anything so thats a good thing, he said.
I was out there pitching and I was worried about where to throw it and what pitch to throw in each count and not worrying about is this going to hurt or not? Honestly, before I had surgery and in Spring Training that was my main concern and now that I dont have that in my head Im really happy with it.
Storen threw six of his eight pitches for strikes while registering a popout, a flyout and a groundout. Originally slated to throw as many as 25 pitches, Storen joked afterwards that he was just too efficient.
Its about getting your feet wet more than anything, he said. Pitch count isnt necessarily important right now for me; its just about facing hitters. Its a whole other ballgame when youre facing hitters in a game and youve got umpires and everyone here.
Storen threw five fastballs, all of which were in the 91-92 MPH range, and his velocity is one area that hell look to improve in his upcoming appearances. Manager Davey Johnson said this week that Storen would likely pitch every other day before returning to the Nats active roster next Friday, July 13.
My velocity isnt where its going to be when Im pitching in the ninth inning of a big league game but its still there. You have stepping stones in rehab and each outing it will ideally go up.
That comes with arm strength and at this point where I gain arm strength is by throwing in a game. If I can have another outing like this the next time Im out, Ill be a very happy camper.
Storen finished fourth in the National League with 43 saves last season while going 6-3 with a 2.75 ERA. His start Thursday was his first since high school and he acknowledged afterwards that it was a little different and that he almost forgot to stand on the mound for the national anthem.
When Storen returns to the Nats active roster following next weeks All Star break, hell return to the bullpen- but not to his usual role as the teams fulltime closer.
The closer role now belongs to Tyler Clippard who entered play Thursday 13-for-13 in save opportunities while allowing just two hits and no runs in 16.1 innings in his last 17 appearances.
Johnson has said that Storen will most likely be eased in as a setup man.
Im preparing to close regardless, Storen said. I know coming in that the plan is to have me set up when I first get back and that needs to happen. Thats part of the acclimation process and its just a matter of getting your feet wet at each different level. I know what I have to do.
Storen is expected to pitch again for Potomac on Saturday.
NOTES: Chad Tracy was also in the Potomac lineup Thursday as he rehabs from surgery to repair a torn right adductor muscle. Tracy went 0-for-2 with two well hit balls to the outfield. The Nats third baseman was robbed of extra bases in his first at-bat when Frederick right fielder Steven Bumbry made a leaping catch at the right field fence. Tracy last played with the Nats May 26.