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Storen stunned after Nats collapse

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Storen stunned after Nats collapse

The protective plastic over the lockers, the cart of champagne bottles, all of it was in place.

All Drew Storen had to do was get one strike.

Twice the Nationals had the Cardinals where they wanted them: two strikes and two outs, a two-run lead.

Full count, two outs on Yadier Molina. He walks. Full count, two outs on David Freese. He walks.

Then, with one 94 mile per hour sinker, the Nationals 2012 season began to unravel before the eyes of the largest crowd in stadium history. Daniel Descalso pelted a ground ball off the glove of Ian Desmond, ricocheting into the outfield and scoring two runs to tie the game at seven.

The next batter, rookie Pete Kozma, then made contact with another hard sinker, this time a line drive single into right field. Two runners scored as the Cardinals took their first lead after trailing for three and a half hours and 26 outs.

What had all night seemed so certain, all of a sudden slipped away.

“We had it right there. Most disappointing honestly, is just to let these guys down,” Storen said after collecting himself in the Nationals’ clubhouse.

“With the amount of adversity we dealt with this year, for it to come down to that is pretty tough.”

The 25-year-old Storen was drafted and groomed by the Nationals for this very situation. He was the best closer in college when they took him in 2009 and saved 43 games in 2011. But Friday night was not meant to be, what could have been the most gratifying moment of his career is now something that will carry with him until next season and perhaps beyond.

“It’s part of the job,” he said. “It’s the best job when you’re good at it and it’s the worst job when you fail.”

“There’s a bad taste in my mouth that’s gonna stay there for a couple of months and it’s probably never going to leave.”

Storen sat at his locker for minutes at a time after the Game 5 loss. First in his game worn under shirt, second washed and fully dressed.

Teammates and coaches took turns walking up to console him, but what could be said? Nothing can take away the time he will spend going over those at-bats, those moments, what could have been.

For Storen’s teammates, they chose to focus on the collective feeling of loss. They were devastated just as he was and, after all, no game is really decided on one pitch.

“I don’t know, I don’t know what to tell the guy,” Kurt Suzuki said. “We’re both feeling the same thing.”

“I really don’t know what we would have done differently, to tell you the truth.”

Storen’s roommate and good friend Tyler Clippard pitched the eighth inning and also let Descalso cut the deficit with a solo home run. Clippard stood up for Storen and took ownership himself.

“Obviously Drew feels bad, I feel bad, we’re all pretty devastated right now,” he said. “I don't think it has any difference who did what in the game, we’re all in the same boat.”

Adam LaRoche, perhaps the team’s 2012 most valuable player, still reveres Storen and his future as a closer.

"He's one of the best in the game. We all know it. And I hope he knows that," he said.

"I think the last three outs are the hardest in baseball, and I don't know why it's so much harder than the other eight innings. But something about it. Crazy stuff happens in that ninth inning.”

Ryan Zimmerman affirmed his confidence in Storen as if he were speaking for the franchise as he’s often asked to do.

“Drew will be fine. Drew went through a lot this year,” he said, referring to Storen’s time on the disabled list after elbow surgery.

“I think Drew is going to be a great closer for a long time. He's going to be our guy."


General manager Mike Rizzo ultimately makes those decisions, but says he's seen enough success from Storen to remain in his corner.

“He’s a terrific young player with a bright future as a closer. He’s already proven he can handle the load,” he said.

On what he hopes Storen can take away from this experience, Rizzo was honest and said probably the only thing the young closer really can do to move on.

“Remember how this feels so it doesn’t happen again.”

Storen remembering what happened is probably the last thing he has to worry about.

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Nationals face dilemma as Sean Doolittle's usage mounts, velocity drops

Nationals face dilemma as Sean Doolittle's usage mounts, velocity drops

Davey Martinez had no hesitation in his answer or decision on Friday in Philadelphia. First game out of the break, facing a team right next to the Nationals in the standings, a 4-0 lead. Closer Sean Doolittle was coming in to end it, though it was a non-save situation and he is being used at an extreme level.

“Here’s my thoughts: It took me about three seconds,” Martinez said Friday. “Playing at Citizens [Bank] Park. Four runs. That ain’t much here. Those guys can hit. Doolittle’s coming in the game. It’s a big moment. And, he’s my guy. To me, that game right there, it’s huge coming off a four-day break.”

So, Doolittle made his 40th appearance of the season. Saturday brought his 41st appearance. He did not pitch Sunday, a day game after a late night.

Trends are emerging through his high usage rate. Doolittle’s velocity is down for the fourth consecutive season. The dip is slight year over year, from 93.9 mph average fastball velocity to 93.6. His velocity was distinctly down in Philadelphia over the weekend despite four days off. Doolittle threw 12 fastballs Friday, 10 of which were slower than his average fastball velocity this season. He threw 19 fastballs Saturday; 13 were below his average velocity (two others matched it). 

“I’m not exactly sure why it’s down,” Doolittle said Saturday. “I know from past experience, not to panic if I see the 91, 92. I feel pretty good -- everybody gets a little tired around this point of the season, but if I stay in my mechanics and don’t try to overthrow, I can still get that life and deception on my fastball. I can still, like [Saturday], I can still navigate innings and get guys out. These last two nights I’ve been really pleased with how I’ve been able to manage my energy level without maybe my best fastball.”

He is on pace for a career-high 72 appearances and 1,214 pitches. The latter would exceed his career mark of 1,019 by almost 200 pitches. One of the most telling numbers around Doolittle is his games finished vs. saves. He leads the league with 37 games finished but has just 20 saves, which is tied for fourth with three others. National League saves leader Kirby Yates has finished 35 games, but has 30 saves. Kenley Jansen: 33 games finished, 23 saves. Will Smith: 35 games finished, 23 saves. No other closer has appeared in more non-save situations.

Doolittle’s velocity also dropped earlier in the season before a mechanical adjustment kicked it back up to the 94- and 95-mph range for a spell. He did turn loose a 95-mph fastball Saturday. He half-joked about it.

“See it’s in there,” Doolittle said. “I just got to pick and choose, I guess, when to use it.”

His manager is using a more straight-ahead approach. Doolittle is out there, so he is using him. A lot.

And all this is more for recognition of the situation as opposed to blame assessment, When the bullpen was at its worst, Doolittle was summoned at times because his teammates were in the process of blowing a game or couldn’t be trusted in the first place. The Nationals were also rapidly losing ground, so Martinez had to be sure he was sure whenever possible. But, also, there have been times when Doolittle’s appearance in a non-save situation appeared unnecessary.

Piled together, the Nationals have an ongoing conundrum: they need to manage Doolittle’s appearances while in the middle of a push up the standings and without a definitive backup. Fernando Rodney has helped. An acquisition before the trade deadline could help further. And the coming week we’ll clarify if two games in Philadelphia were a blip or more foreboding.

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Nationals broadcaster F.P Santangelo: Team never panicked in slow start

Nationals broadcaster F.P Santangelo: Team never panicked in slow start

The Washington Nationals early start may have had fans and pundits writing off the team for the season, but no one inside the Nationals organization was panicking, said one insider. 

“I know there was a while there where everybody wanted Davey gone and people were questioning Mike," Nationals broadcaster F.P. Santangelo said on The Sports Junkies Monday, "but they were the calming forces in all this."

From bullpen woes to injuries, the Nationals had a rough start to their season and then suddenly, as if it had never happened, they turned it around.

“We were all scratching our heads like what in the world is going on? This team is way too good to be doing this and it was happening nightly,” Santangelo said.

As pressure mounted on the team to keep winning, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo reiterated time and time again during his Wednesday morning spot on The Sports Junkies that their goal was to play good baseball and to not worry about wins or losses, which Santangelo echoed.

"They were calm the whole time," Santangelo said. "They had veteran presence in the clubhouse and nobody panicked."

Suddenly, with a 12-10 win over the Miami Marlins on May 24, the Nats turned it around. Rizzo and the Lerners made the decision to cut their losses on Trevor Rosenthal's contract, the bullpen started to pitch well and adjustments were made accordingly, says Santangelo.

The Nationals open their two-game series against the Baltimore Orioles Tuesday at 7:05 p.m.

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