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Storen’s big strikeout of Stanton saves Wednesday’s win

May 7, 2015, 1:09 PM EDT

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There were Bryce Harper’s homers, all three of them. And there were Max Scherzer’s seven innings of dominance. But the Nationals’ 7-5 victory over the Marlins on Wednesday afternoon still required one final, electric performance from Drew Storen to be secured.

And it was electric, even though the Nats closer got himself in a quick jam after plunking Donovan Solano and allowing a single to Dee Gordon to lead off the ninth.

The key at-bat, of course, came against perhaps the most-feared hitter in baseball (or, at least, the most-feared hitter in Washington): Giancarlo Stanton. Having already crushed a 3-run homer the previous inning to end Scherzer’s day and make this a close game again, Stanton was lurking throughout the ninth, due up fourth when the inning began.

Everybody in the ballpark knew it, knew Storen’s best chance for success was to retire the Marlins’ first three batters and never let Stanton reach the plate. But Storen knew he had to fight the temptation to think in those terms.

“I look at it like golf,” he said. “If you tell yourself, ‘Don’t hit it in the water,’ you end up hitting it in the water. You have to take it a batter at a time. Obviously, that’s not how you draw it up. But you have to work with the situation you’re in.”

Before facing Stanton, Storen got Martin Prado to fly out to right field. So that was out No. 1, bringing the big slugger to the plate with two on and a chance to give his team the lead with one swing.

Storen knew his gameplan entering the encounter. Stanton is most vulnerable to breaking balls down and away. But that doesn’t mean you can abandon the other side of the plate altogether.

“He’s so strong and powerful,” Storen said. “He got me last year in a similar situation on a slider down and away. So I’ve got to show him [something inside], so he’s going to have to respect the inner half. … You’ve just got to keep him off-balance, man.”

Which is exactly what Storen did. His first pitch was a fastball way inside, forcing Stanton to take a step back. That then set up a slider down and away, which Stanton missed for strike one. Then came another fastball in, this one a sinker that Stanton barely foul-tipped for strike two and put the slugger on the defensive.

And that then set the stage for Storen’s final pitch of the at-bat, another slider away, which Stanton couldn’t reach. A subsequent strikeout of Marcell Ozuna finished the deal and sealed the Nationals’ third consecutive series victory.

“The key in that at-bat was the sinker in that he fouled off,” manager Matt Williams said. “Which opens up the outer side of the plate for any pitcher, but especially for Drew’s slider. He was a little erratic coming out of the bullpen. But once he hit Solano, then he settled into the strike zone better and made some good pitches.”

  1. Ghost of Steve M. - May 7, 2015 at 2:18 PM

    Retelling that 9th inning got my heart racing again!

    Great read!!!

    • adcwonk - May 7, 2015 at 2:39 PM

      Reminiscent of Roark’s last-out K two nights ago, after falling behind 3-0. At 3-1 he threw two straight low and outside sliders that Stanton swung and missed.

      • adcwonk - May 7, 2015 at 3:12 PM

        To follow up — I was describing the last at bat (of Roark vs Stanton) to the Wonkling over the phone. She laughed and said, “I bet you were in front of the tv, pacing, dad, right?”

        She was right.

        BTW, two other thoughts come to mind:

        1. I wonder how long Stanton is going to fall for those. On one hand, he’s only 25. (OTOH, this is his 6th full season).

        2. I wonder if MIami fans tear their hair out when he strikes out on down-and-out sliders like we do when Ian strikes out on high hard ones. For the record, Stanton is 2nd in NL in strike outs — one ahead of Harper, and nine more than Ian. (Or, otoh, do we sort of overlook it, like we sort of do Harper, because, e.g., he (Stanton) leads MLB in RBI’s)

  2. tcostant - May 7, 2015 at 2:37 PM

    Janssen will pitch today with the P-Nats, during today’s doubleheader.

  3. scnatsfan - May 7, 2015 at 3:19 PM

    Am I alone getting the worried feeling when Drew comes in, the same feeling I got in my stomach when Soriano came in?

    • Danny - May 7, 2015 at 3:26 PM

      Nope, have it every time

      • adcwonk - May 7, 2015 at 3:38 PM

        I do, too, although I’m not sure how deserved it is.

        Consider — of all relievers in the NL last year, Storen had the best ERA. By Far. (He was 1.12, Benoit was second best at 1.49 — Chapman and Papelbon were both 2.00 or higher). His WHIP was 11th best. Perhaps that’s what gets us queasy (although 11th best is pretty good — he has 0.98 (K-Rod was 12th, Clippard was 13th) — Papelbon and Kimbrel were 0.90 and 0.91).

        Whatever. We like excitement, right? 😉

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - May 7, 2015 at 5:45 PM

        But, in keeping with the spirit of the question, just tally “made me reach for the bourbon & Maalox || didn’t make me” outings, which is pretty subjective.

        Is there a B&M index, really? Not called that, but is there a stat/combination of stats equivalent to that, more or less? A “Good outing, yes or no? regardless of the outcome” stat?

        Because we know, sometimes you can do everything right, and still lose, and sometimes you can get away with murder, but everyone knows you did so.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - May 7, 2015 at 5:47 PM

        I mean, the whole definition of “closer” requires them to enter a close game in a high leverage situation, so unless it’s Sidd Finch coming in, there’s going to be some tension on the part of the fans, if not the rest of the stakeholders.

      • natsfan1a - May 7, 2015 at 6:09 PM

        Speaking of Sidd Finch, stop me if you’ve heard this one before [Wait. You can’t stop me, because by the time you’ve read this, I’ll already have posted it. But I digress], but there’s a bobblehead. Seriously.

        http://www.brooklyncyclones.com/news/?article_id=2006

    • virginiascopist - May 7, 2015 at 3:28 PM

      No, you’re not alone, but I think that feeling is shared by fans of every single team, with the possible exception of the San Diego Padres and the Cincinnati Reds.

      • Eugene in Oregon - May 7, 2015 at 3:35 PM

        Exactly. And Drew Storen actually has a lower WHIP than Craig Kimbrell, meaning that Mr. Kimbrell is even generating some anxiety.

      • therealjohnc - May 7, 2015 at 3:56 PM

        And should be even for those teams. Because, as Boswell pointed out on Tuesday, Storen has been arguably the best relief pitcher in the National League for the past year and a half.

        As fans, we don’t want any baserunners. Ever. NO DRAMA! But of course all closers will fail that test. And even when Storen does have a 1-2-3 9th (as he did a couple of times in the last week), we forget about it pretty much immediately.

  4. Danny - May 7, 2015 at 3:27 PM

    Believe Reynaldo Lopez makes his first start for Potomac today and Giolito follows tomorrow.

    • tcostant - May 7, 2015 at 3:31 PM

      Is Giolito still on for tomorrow, was wondering that with rainout two days in a row.

      • nats128 - May 7, 2015 at 3:37 PM

        Yes as of now.

  5. NatsLady - May 7, 2015 at 3:36 PM

    Jayson Werth has the lowest BABiP of Nats hitters. Also, they are now showing the Soft/Med/Hard stats for batted balls on Fangraphs (three right columns) as well as who is pulling the ball.

    Nats hitters

    • adcwonk - May 7, 2015 at 3:42 PM

      Jayson Werth has the lowest BABiP of Nats hitter

      Huh. OK. I really thought a bunch of his low BA was due to luck (and said so awhile back) based on watching (but I hadn’t seen stats). Thanks.

      Further, I see Werth’s line-drive percentage is almost best on the team, which also confirms my eyes — he’s been hitting hard balls right at the outfielders with astoundingly bad luck. (Line drives are supposed to have the highest BABIP, right?)

      I’m convinced now more than ever that he will get on track.

      Thanks for the chart, NL!

    • adcwonk - May 7, 2015 at 3:45 PM

      And Bryce’s “HR per Fly Ball” is ridiculous! One third! Holy Moley!!

      So 40% of the time he makes contact, it’s a fly ball, and 1/3 of those are HR’s?! Am I reading that right?

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - May 7, 2015 at 5:32 PM

        When Bryce hits ’em, they stay hit.

    • Hiram Hover - May 7, 2015 at 3:53 PM

      Thanks – I hadn’t noticed the soft-medium-hard hit ball breakdown before.

      This season, Werth’s % of soft hit balls is up (to 19%, from about 14% the last 2 years) and his % of hard hit balls down (27.6% this year, vs about almost 40% for 2013-14).

      Not surprising, given the surgery, but still popped out at me.

  6. NatsLady - May 7, 2015 at 3:41 PM

    Max is pretty good at generating soft contact. Not as good as Colbert, but still pretty good.

    Pitchers sorted by contact

  7. sec105rowwseat28 - May 7, 2015 at 4:01 PM

    Since Boswell had just written a column in praise of Storen ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/nationals/thanks-to-drew-storen-closer-is-an-open-and-shut-case-for-nationals/2015/05/05/6c3733f6-f344-11e4-84a6-6d7c67c50db0_story.html ) when he put the first two guys on in the ninth inning yesterday and with Stanton coming up, I was fully expecting a blown save in retribution for that. Thank the Baseball Gods that didn’t happen!

    I don’t think Boswell will be writing any columns in praise of Matt Williams, so we don’t have to worry about any retribution from the Baseball Gods on that account. But we have worry enough already with MW’s managing style, don’t we?

    • ehay2k - May 7, 2015 at 4:31 PM

      Why do you keep referring to yourself in the plural?

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - May 7, 2015 at 5:33 PM

        It’s the royal We. We do that ourself, sometimes. But we don’t refer to ourself in the third person.

      • natsfan1a - May 7, 2015 at 6:11 PM

        We are not amused. Well, actually we are kind of, but we’re mainly just killing time here while waiting for our 50 percent off Papa John’s order to show up.

      • sec105rowwseat28 - May 7, 2015 at 6:18 PM

        Actually it’s not the Royal We. It’s a simple statement and a question addressed to a group of people that includes myself. We are not impressed by your attempt to explain things to this simpleton.

  8. Ghost of Steve M. - May 7, 2015 at 4:01 PM

    To piggyback on NatsLady’s post is the light contact percentage by Cliff Robinson was shocking given how big he is. Is that based on MPH off the bat?

    http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=np&stats=bat&lg=all&qual=10&type=2&season=2015&month=0&season1=2015&ind=0&team=24&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0&sort=16,d

    • Hiram Hover - May 7, 2015 at 4:04 PM

      Such a SSS–he has put 28 balls in play this season–that I don’t think it means much.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 7, 2015 at 5:24 PM

        Still surprising even based on 28 balls in play that 1/3 of them were considered on the lower end.

        These are most likely a combination of solid contact and bat speed. On the other end of the spectrum is Reed Johnson.

  9. chiefwj - May 7, 2015 at 4:06 PM

    Stanton v. Storen lifetime:

    3 for 16, 7K, 1 HR.

    Drew had it all the way.

  10. csorrent528 - May 7, 2015 at 4:24 PM

    Wouldn’t we be far better off with Stephen Sousa starting in left field and Jason continuing to rehab so he doesn’t have to rehab during regular games and help lose them? Jason’s just not contributing either in the field (some awful errors) or at bat (below Mendosa line.) Meanwhile, Sousa is hitting .232 with 4 doubles and 4 homers. Not huge, but not the automatic out Jason usually is, watching third strikes.

    • ehay2k - May 7, 2015 at 4:35 PM

      Seems much, much easier to just have MAT in LF while Jayson rehabs. That is good enough.

      • therealjohnc - May 7, 2015 at 4:55 PM

        If you don’t like strikeouts, Souza is a pretty terrible choice. He is leading all of MLB in strikeouts (41, one ahead of Chris Carter, Chris Davis and Jorge Soler).

        And it’s not just easier to have MAT in LF when Jayson rehabs/gets a day off. It’s also kind of nice to have Joe Ross and (eventually) Trea Turner in the organization along with having MAT to play LF. I don’t think that Rizzo loses one moment of sleep over that trade. I like Steven Souza a lot and wish him well, but I don’t fret about that trade at all.

    • Section 222 - May 7, 2015 at 5:03 PM

      You know Souza isn’t on the team anymore, right? 🙂 Of course you do. So what you’re saying is maybe we shouldn’t have traded Souza. And that’s not a conclusion that can be reached until we know what kind of major leaguers Ross and Turner will be.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - May 7, 2015 at 5:36 PM

        Yeah, but getting another #1 pick, 13th overall, for Souza, seems like a good idea, regardless. Love that catch, and he’ll be a good player, but seriously.

      • Eugene in Oregon - May 7, 2015 at 5:45 PM

        Exactly.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - May 7, 2015 at 6:14 PM

        Put it this way: Souza’s upside is probably something like Brady Anderson’s career. Which is very nice, the back of his card will look good, and he’ll take care of his family for several generations in both directions, but you still make that trade 10/10.

      • Section 222 - May 7, 2015 at 6:47 PM

        Sure, it seems like a good idea. Certainly did then (before they knew Werth would need surgery), and still does now. If Turner is a bust like, say, Jerry Blevins, you can come back and say the trade was a bad one, and we would have been better off keeping Souza, and having him to replace Werth while his shoulder recovers. But it’s way too early to say that.

    • knoxvillenat - May 7, 2015 at 7:18 PM

      How you going to get Sousa back from the Rays? Since he is not on the roster I don’t understand what your point is? Now if you would have referenced Taylor or Moore or Robinson perhaps w could have a serious discussion.

  11. Sec 3, My Sofa - May 7, 2015 at 8:51 PM

    I think he gets it by now.

    • csorrent528 - May 7, 2015 at 9:05 PM

      Right, I got it. Thanks for setting me straight on Sousa. I have to agree that the trade was probably a good one, but we can’t tell until we see the guys we got for him make it. MAT in left is a good stand in for Werth.

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