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Storen not all the way back yet

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Storen not all the way back yet

At various points over the last few weeks, Davey Johnson has noted Drew Storen looks like he's all the way back from the elbow surgery that sidelined him for the season's first 3 12 months.

Storen, though, isn't quite all the way back yet. He's had his moments of dominance, but he's also had the occasional stinker, as was the case late last night in San Francisco.

Handed the ball by Johnson for the bottom of the eighth inning, with the Nationals trailing 2-1 and trying to give themselves a chance at a late rally, Storen instead turned a tight ballgame into a lopsided loss. He gave up four runs while retiring only one batter, his worst outing to date this season.

Storen hadn't been charged with a run in nearly a month, not since he contributed to the Nationals' July 20 implosion against the Braves, turning a 9-0 lead into an 11-10 loss. But he'd had several more shaky outings since, perhaps setting the stage for something like this to happen.

Over his last seven appearances (spanning five innings) Storen has issued six walks. That's a staggering high total for a reliever who in his first two big-league seasons walked only 2.9 batters per nine innings.

This shouldn't come as a huge surprise, though, because it's all part of the 25-year-old's full recovery from surgery to remove a bone spur in his elbow. As is almost always the case with pitchers returning from surgery to either their elbow or shoulder, command is the last piece of the puzzle. And inconsistency usually reigns.

One night, Storen has been able to locate on a dime, such as Sunday's appearance in Arizona when he needed only nine pitches to record three outs. The next, his off-speed stuff appears to have too much movement, so much so that he can't control it.

It's still going to take some time for Storen to get that pinpoint command all the back and to be able to count on it from game to game. That's why Tyler Clippard remains such an important member of the Nationals' pitching staff, and that's why Clippard will remain their primary closer for the foreseeable future.

Would Johnson like to get Storen back into closing situations, to the point where the manager feels comfortable using him in the ninth inning of a key pennant race game? Absolutely.

But in order for that to happen, Storen is going to need to get some more work in less-demanding situations. He's still working things out, getting a feel for all his pitches, and the best time to accomplish that is when there's no pressure.

Storen will close more games before this season is over. And he might very well re-assume the ninth inning role from his teammate and roommate.

But for now, the Nationals are wise to stick with Clippard, a reliever who's already in midseason form while Storen still deals with kinks he'd normally try to work out in spring training, not in mid-August for a first-place club.

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Murphy's big hit helps Nats beat Mets 6-1

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Murphy's big hit helps Nats beat Mets 6-1

Daniel Murphy and Trea Turner each hit a two-run single in Washington's five-run seventh inning, helping the Nationals beat the New York Mets 6-1 on Sunday.

Matt Adams added two hits and scored a run as Washington salvaged a split of its four-game set against New York. A preseason favorite to win the NL East and contend for a World Series championship, the disappointing Nationals hit the All-Star break with a 48-48 record, good for third in the division.

Jeremy Hellickson (4-1) pitched six crisp innings in his second straight win. The veteran right-hander allowed one run and two hits, struck out six and walked two.

Jose Reyes drove in Michael Conforto with a fielder's choice in the second, tying it at 1, but Washington grabbed control in the seventh.

Juan Soto and Anthony Rendon opened the inning with walks against Anthony Swarzak (0-2). Tim Peterson then came in and surrendered singles to Adams and Murphy, who came off the bench to hit for Michael A. Taylor.

Jerry Blevins replaced Peterson with two out and runners on second and third. But he hit Wilmer Difo and Adam Eaton before Turner's single gave Washington a 6-1 lead.

New York wasted a solid start by Corey Oswalt, who allowed two hits in five innings. The Mets got off to a fast start this year, but hit the break last in the division with a 39-55 record, a percentage point behind fourth-place Miami.

WAITING

A steady drizzle delayed the start by 47 minutes.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg (right shoulder inflammation) pitched 5 2/3 innings in a rehab start for Class A Potomac. He allowed three runs, struck out seven and walked one. Strasburg has been on the disabled list since June 10.

Mets: Yoenis Cespedes is scheduled to play five simulated innings in left field at the team's facility in Florida on Monday. Mets manager Mickey Callaway said the 32-year-old outfielder, who has been sidelined by a right hip flexor and strained quadriceps, could return as the designated hitter next weekend against the Yankees If he is able to play on consecutive days.

MAKING MOVES

The Nationals recalled right-hander Trevor Gott from Triple-A Syracuse. Right-hander Austin Voth, who took the loss in his big league debut Saturday, was sent back to Syracuse.

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Taking a look at the numbers behind the Nationals' three All-Stars

Taking a look at the numbers behind the Nationals' three All-Stars

With a win on Sunday afternoon, the Nationals come into the All-Star break at 48-48. 

That's not great! It's certainly an underperformance given all the expectations, but the season hasn't been without some stellar individual performances . 

Take, for starters, Max Scherzer. Scherzer's on pace to have an even better year than his 2017 Cy Young-winning effort, which is mind-boggling. 

An even-more-refined command is what's made him better this season, as his walk rate is down below seven percent again after creeping up to 7.1 last year. It hasn't affected his strikeout rate, either, which has stayed steady at 34 percent. If the season ended today, it'd be the 4th straight year where he set a career-best in that department. 

Of all starting pitchers, he ranks second in WHIP, and K/BB percent. He has the third-lowest average against (.178) and third-best strikeout percentage (34.5). He's got a top-10 ERA and FIP as well. He's been the best pitcher in baseball this season, and will probably be in the conversation for N.L. MVP as well. 

If only the Nats could just go from Scherzer to Doolittle. The closer stopped walking people, too, and already has 22 saves after ending last year with 24. Had he not been put on the D.L. with a toe injury about a week before the All-Star game, he more than likely would have set his career high in saves before the break. 

He's currently on pace to post the second-best year of his career when it comes to strikeouts, too. He's getting Ks 37.1 percent of the time, which would be the highest since he posted a 37.7 in 2014. Same goes for his K/9. He also has a top-10 ERA and FIP. He's been one of the few relief pitchers that have been consistently reliable through the first half, and the Nats will need his toe to get real healthy real quick. 

And lastly there's Bryce Harper, who you've surely heard is not having an All-Star caliber season. His batting average is hovering around .200, he's striking out more than he has in four years, and he's getting eaten alive by the shift. He's also on pace to have one of his best power-hitting seasons ever and finish with close to 40 home runs, so even his bad years still find a way to be impressive. 

Harper also benefits from being one of the faces of baseball playing in front of his home fans. He's one of the most popular players in the league, and All-Star games find a way to get those people in. An All-Star game in D.C. without him would be objectively less enjoyable, so it was in everyone's interest to have him there. Stars just get the calls sometimes. 

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