NEW YORK -- Davey Johnson has tried his best to ease Drew Storen back from elbow surgery, not wanting to put too much on the right-hander too soon.
But during this week's series against the Mets, the Nationals manager found himself needing a quality reliever to face the red-hot David Wright in a couple of key spots. So the call was made to Storen, who may not be throwing many pitches right now but is certainly throwing important pitches.
Storen threw only six total pitches in the series. All were to Wright during two encounters. And each time, the young reliever retired the New York slugger.
"No better way to get yourself in shape than to face a guy like that, especially in big spots," he said. "Like I said the other day, just kind of keep adding the pressure of facing the same guy. It's pretty fun, to be honest with you, to face a really good hitter like that and have a battle like that with the game on the line. Can't really ask for much more than that."
On Monday night, Storen replaced starter Jordan Zimmermann for the bottom of the seventh inning, with the Nationals clinging to a 2-1 lead and Wright leading off. He threw all of two pitches, both 93 mph fastballs, the first one nearly taking Wright's head off before he got him to fly out to center field.
Then on Wednesday afternoon, Storen was summoned for a tenser situation: Two outs, two runners in scoring position, Wright at the plate representing the tying run.
This time, Storen started the slugger off with three straight sliders. He fell behind in the count 2-0, got Wright to look at a strike on the inside corner and then jammed him with a 95 mph fastball, inducing a groundball to third base.
He pounded his glove and let out a jubilant scream as Ryan Zimmerman made the throw to first to retire Wright and end the inning, perhaps his first truly big out since late last season.
At last, Storen is starting to feel like himself again.
"Yeah, absolutely," he said. "And that's what those situations, that's what's going to get me back. Faced an unbelievable hitter on the road in a big spot, with a sweep on the line, protecting a great performance by Stephen Strasburg."
Johnson didn't want to have to use Storen at all during the game, not after he pitched Monday and then warmed up in the bullpen Tuesday.
"I'm trying to jump start him a little, to get back to where he was," the manager said. "But he told me he was OK, and that was a situation I needed him badly. And he came in and worked on his breaking ball. So he's awful close."