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Dominant Janssen, Storen help shorten game

Aug 5, 2015, 10:00 AM EST

Aug 4, 2015; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals relief pitcher Drew Storen (22) throws to the Arizona Diamondbacks during the eighth inning at Nationals Park. The Washington Nationals won 5 - 4. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The impetus for last week’s Jonathan Papelbon trade wasn’t so much about the Nationals trying to bolster the ninth inning as it was about bolstering the seventh and eighth innings. Mike Rizzo already knew he had an elite closer in Drew Storen; what he didn’t have were consistently reliable setup men to bridge the gap from starter to Storen.

One week since the blockbuster deal, the Nationals general manager’s grand vision has been working to near-perfection. Papelbon is 2-for-2 in save opportunities since joining his new club, but the real stars of the Nats bullpen have been the guys pitching in front of him: Casey Janssen and Storen.

And Tuesday night’s 5-4 victory over the Diamondbacks was perhaps the most striking example of that to date. Janssen entered for the top of the seventh inning of what was then a 3-3 game and proceeded to retire the side on seven pitches, six of them strikes. Then Storen cruised through the top of the eighth, also retiring the side, this time on nine pitches, all of them strikes.

If not for those crucial zeroes posted in the seventh and eighth innings, the Nationals might never be in position to win the game.

“To have guys down there that are quality arms, that can get outs, it just gives you more confidence as a team,” said Max Scherzer, who threw 114 pitches over six innings before giving way to the bullpen. “We can continue to run out guys that can shut down innings. Having Papelbon here, it’s a big plus.”

That’s because it allows manager Matt Williams to go to another pair of experienced, late-inning relievers earlier in games. It begins with Janssen, who after a frustrating first half of the season that included a long DL stint and then some inconsistent performances, has turned electric since. Over his last nine appearances, he has tossed 8 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing only two hits and a walk while striking out 10.

“I feel like I’m throwing the ball like I should and like I know how to throw,” the 34-year-old right-hander said. “Obviously getting ahead helps out a lot. Getting the first out of every inning. The standard stuff. But I’m just commanding the ball to both sides of the plate well and hitting on my offspeed pitches when I need to.”

The Nationals expected to count on Janssen for big outs late in games when they signed him over the winter to a contract that guaranteed at least $5 million. It took some time, though, for the veteran reliever to earn Williams’ trust.

Janssen doesn’t fault his manager for that, recognizing the onus was on him to perform.

“I was just a body down there, I felt like,” he said. “I feel like they didn’t know what they were going to get every time. And I know what I can do. It was just a matter of me showing them. And once they continued to see it, it was like, ‘Hey, this is the guy we signed in the offseason that was supposed to help.’ Obviously I’m getting to that point, and now I just need to continue it and kind of stamp it.”

Janssen has become utterly dominant, but Storen has managed to take things to an entirely different level in the last week. His personal disappointment in the Papelbon trade is no secret, but the former closer has managed to channel those emotions into perhaps the best stretch of his pitching career.

In four appearances since Papelbon was acquired, Storen has faced 12 batters. He has retired all 12, striking out six. And he has thrown 32 of his 35 pitches for strikes.

“It’s just about repeating your delivery,” he said of this recent surge. “I’ve been able to do that. I feel very comfortable with where my mechanics are right now, and I’m throwing it where I want to. It’s a good thing.”

Tuesday’s performance was especially impressive for Storen, given the fact he was facing the heart of the Diamondbacks’ lineup (A.J. Pollack, Paul Goldschmidt, David Peralta) for the second straight night. He has retired all three both times.

“Any tie game is tough,” he said. “Then [you have] to couple it with 2-3-4, who are some very good hitters. Then you’ve got to think about how I faced those guys last night, so they won’t be seeing anything new. You’ve got to make sure you execute in those situations.”

The manner in which Storen has responded to a difficult situation over the last week hasn’t been lost on his teammates.

“It shows how professional he is,” Janssen said. “It shows how good of a pitcher he is. … Probably deep down he wasn’t pumped [about] it, but he accepted it and has done a tremendous job. We need him to pitch well and to get the ball into Pap’s hand in the ninth. Sometimes it’s a thankless job, because everyone just hears about the closer. But we appreciate him a lot.”

  1. alexva6 - Aug 5, 2015 at 10:08 AM

    I feared a Storen demotion, it appears I have been proven wrong

  2. abqnatsfan - Aug 5, 2015 at 10:17 AM

    Looked good last night. I hope that looking at last Saturday and then last night MW learned a lesson.

    Guess we will find out.

    • adcwonk - Aug 5, 2015 at 12:43 PM

      I can’t remember which game was which, but either Sat night or Fri night, neither Janssen nor Storen was available (and MW got raked over the coals here for not using either of them).

  3. scnatsfan - Aug 5, 2015 at 10:24 AM

    I’ll be buying my chia pet on ebay. Looking forward to the ridiculous prices tomorrow.

    Ramos just gets enough of that to dunk it over Goldschmidt; couple of feet less and its a weak popout and he’s still a bum who cant drive a ball. Funny the difference between a hero and a bum. Glad he got juuuuust enough.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 5, 2015 at 10:27 AM

      Those humpback liners are the equalizer to the smash that Ichiro robbed him in Miami last week.

      • Serious Jammage - Aug 5, 2015 at 11:02 AM

        Or the rope that Rendon hit straight to Goldie and Zim got doubled up on. I think it was the inning prior. Either way I like the way we are squaring up the ball.

        BABIP is a fickle mistress.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 5, 2015 at 11:04 AM

        Rendon was on every ball and was robbed twice.

    • NIWatcher - Aug 5, 2015 at 2:22 PM

      I’ll have one to trade, preferably for a 2011 or earlier bobblehead.

  4. realdealnats - Aug 5, 2015 at 10:38 AM

    Being on the Mets’ shoulder at this stage of the race is not such a bad thing; as long as we stay on their shoulder. If we hang tough and keep pace as the recently returned get their 100 ABs, I think they’ll feel the pressure of losing those young arms toward the finish line. I’d rather finish this way than running away with the division and sailing into the post season w/o an edge.

    • masterfishkeeper - Aug 5, 2015 at 10:42 AM

      I agree with you, at least from an intellectual point of view, but being in second makes watching the games much more stressful!

  5. scmargenau - Aug 5, 2015 at 10:52 AM

    This is how clueless MW is. When asked to justify Ian’s play (junkies) he trotted out the usual 3 time silver slugger banter and added that he’s batting 300 since the all star break.

    Wrong. He’s batting 234 – for a manager to be so unaware on arguably the biggest team liability…and announce his ignorance on the radio, is just mind blowing.

    • ehay2k - Aug 5, 2015 at 11:29 AM

      Agree that Desi is a liability. Every time he is up and they flash gaudy career RISP or bases loaded averages, I think to myself: Those numbers are about to drop. As shocking as this would have sounded 4 months ago, Espi has earned a starting spot an Ian has not. He needs a mental break. I know you can’t sit your way out of a slump, but maybe a few days with Schu just working on breaking bad habits would be a good thing.

      Would really like our 4-5-6 to be Escobar, Rendon, Espi.

      Speaking of Escobar, did anyone see him applaud the ump (at 3b last night) when they announced it was his 3,000th game? Everyone else was tossing a ball, or chatting, and Esco looked at him and clapped. That man knows where his bread is buttered!

      • Section 222 - Aug 5, 2015 at 11:52 AM

        Didn’t see Esco do that, but it’s totally within character. I just love the way that guy plays the game, despite the Zim-esque throw in the 9th. I didn’t realize how error free his play has been so far — that was just his 4th error. (How many does Desi have?) And that play on Inciarte in the 7th was really nifty — he was playing in for a bunt and snagged a sharp grounder at close range. Good stuff.

      • janebeard - Aug 5, 2015 at 12:08 PM

        Yeah, we talked about it when it happened. Really super. The guy loves baseball.

    • scnatsfan - Aug 5, 2015 at 11:29 AM

      He isn’t going to say anything about him and, for whatever reason, will continue to trot him out instead of Espi every night. Right or wrong, he has hitched his star to Desi. If it costs us the division then I hope MW is accountable; he should be recognized for his good and bad decisions.

    • Bruxtun - Aug 5, 2015 at 11:37 AM

      Is he clueless or does he just not care what we think? I think it’s the latter. Frustrating as it is to see (and for me I’m reaching the maximum amount of frustration I think I can have with it), he doesn’t owe us an explanation and he doesn’t have to base his lineups on internet comments.

    • rayvil01 - Aug 5, 2015 at 11:40 AM

      He can’t throw him under the nus in a presser. Media Handling 101.

      Reading between the lines of Boswell it’s apparent that Rizzo and/or the Lerners are Desi’s guardian angels.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Aug 5, 2015 at 2:45 PM

      Well there’s “unaware of” and then there’s the Crash Davis School of Being Interviewed By Idiots in a Medium for Idiots.

      No offense intended.

  6. Theophilus T.S. - Aug 5, 2015 at 11:15 AM

    The problem being on the Mets’ shoulder is that they have an incredibly soft schedule the rest of the way. Ten against the Phillies. I count only 13 games — including six with the Nats — where, objectively, the Mets don’t look like the clearly superior team. First and foremost the Nats will have to beat the Mets when they have the opportunity but they also need to take care of business against everybody else they’re going to face and figure the rest of the league isn’t going to give them any help.

    I suspect the Mets young pitchers are going to be under stress — remembering that Strasburg was running out of gas in 2012 before he was shut down. I hope that isn’t just wishful thinking. I also think the Nats have pitching question marks beyond just Fister. Strasburg, obviously, but Zimmermann also. Zimmermann has a “swoon” nearly every season around this time of year (“dead arm”?) but rights himself in late August, September. Hope the pattern holds. Because of the question marks the Brain Trust needs to seriously consider that Ross rather than Fister gives the team a better chance to win on those days in the rotation. They need to look for every edge.

    • bowdenball - Aug 5, 2015 at 11:36 AM

      I agree with you about the Mets’ schedule and have been saying it for a week now. It’s a real problem. However, three things to make us feel a little better:

      1. They have more road games than home games remaining. We have more home games than road games remaining. That balances out the disparity in the schedules (ours is pretty soft too).

      2. The Phillies team they’ll be playing is not the same team that looked historically bad a month ago. They’ve actually been the best team in baseball post-ASB. Obviously it’s not going to continue, but the young talent they’re running out there now should at least win a few of those ten games. Guys like Franco and Herrera are putting up decent numbers and now they’ve got a fresh young arm of their own in the rotation in Nola.

      • bowdenball - Aug 5, 2015 at 11:37 AM

        #3- the innings limits on their young arms. (accidentally hit reply too soon!)

      • adcwonk - Aug 5, 2015 at 12:52 PM

        They’ve actually been the best team in baseball post-ASB.

        Whoa — now _that’s_ a sentence I wasn’t expecting to read!

    • adcwonk - Aug 5, 2015 at 12:46 PM

      The problem being on the Mets’ shoulder is that they have an incredibly soft schedule the rest of the way.

      I don’t know if the following is accurate or not, but:

      My office mate was telling me this morning that the Mets have the easiest schedule remaining, and that the press is ignoring that the Nats have the second easiest schedule remaining.

      Or so he says.

      FWIW . . .

      • zmunchkin - Aug 5, 2015 at 1:18 PM

        The Nats remaining schedule:

        – Braves – 7 games
        – Brewers – 3 games
        – Cardinals – 3 games
        – D-Backs – 2 games
        – Dodgers – 3 games
        – Giants – 4 games
        – Marlins – 9 games
        – Mets – 6 games
        – Orioles – 3 games
        – Padres – 3 games
        – Phillies – 6 games
        – Reds – 1 game
        – Rockies – 6 games

        57 games – of which 37 are against teams that are below .500.

        Of the Mets remaining 55 games, 38 are against teams that are below .500.

        And the Mets have more road games (30) than the Nats (25).

  7. Section 222 - Aug 5, 2015 at 11:37 AM

    Very excited that Stras will be coming back soon. That excitement is muted if he replaces Joe Cool in the rotation. Now if he replaces Fister (doesn’t it seem like he must be hurt?), that’s another story.

  8. Section 222 - Aug 5, 2015 at 11:40 AM

    Note to MW:

    1. Please use Drew and Janssen in games where we trail by one run in the late innings.
    2. Please do not use Drew and Janssen in games where we are up by 5 runs.

    Thank you.

    • Mrsb loves the Nats - Aug 5, 2015 at 11:58 AM

      2 is the reason I am done with him, myself … so you can call me (pleasantly) surprised that Jansen and Drew went out in the 7th and 8th. I just knew Aaron Barrett was on his way for the 7th and Thornton for the 8th. I wasn’t even going to cuss… I was just ready for it.

  9. Joe Seamhead - Aug 5, 2015 at 11:57 AM

    I’m liking the J.S.P. for 7-9. I have always liked the idea of Drew being the setup guy.

    As to Desmond, I have said for about 2 months that Espinosa has beat him out. I still would like to see Danny at 2B, Rendon at 3B and Escobar at SS. Some say that Yunel doesn’t have the range to play SS anymore, but I honestly think with Danny to his left and Anthony to the right of him that it would be a great infield. Danny flat out plays a better 2B than Rendon, and Rendon plays a better 3B than Yunel, imho. Basing anything about Escobar on last year’s defensive stats are not pertinent in my opinion because he was playing hurt, and those stats are an aberration.

    As to fans booing Ian Desmond? Hey, you bought your ticket, so its your right, but I think that you’re wrong to do so. The guy is at least trying to give his all. I’ve probably been to about 300 games at RFK and Nats Park since baseball returned to DC, and I have no idea how many Senators games before that. I have booed one of our players, one time. It was because he didn’t hustle in CF to get to a ball, turning a single into a double. and what turned into the winning run scored on the next play. Yes, I booed Lastings Milledge that day, and he got roasted in the locker room afterward the game for it, too. But Ian’s failures are not from lack of trying. I think that the guy is bleeding over his results.

    • janebeard - Aug 5, 2015 at 12:13 PM

      I think you NEVER boo your own guys. You just don’t. Unless you’re in Philly or NYC, in which case, there’s no help for you.

      I agree Ian is bleeding over his results. If there is any player in that clubhouse who cares more, I don;t know who it could be.

      Drew has been incredible. I have been so struck by how QUIET the stands are when the new guy comes out. I certainly didn’t cheer for him. I want him to close to the games, but I buy the reputation he comes with. He comes onto a team, demands (and GETS — I agree it’s not all him) another guy’s job, another guy’s uni number, and talks only about himself, and never uses the word “we.” I’m going to be glad when we win a game. But I’ll be cheering only when it’s Drew who closes it out for us.

      • Joe Seamhead - Aug 5, 2015 at 12:39 PM

        Jane, the day that I booed Milledge I was sitting in the first row of the outfield seats and watched the guy literally walk to get to a ball.I make no apologies for it, but I tend to agree with your philosophy about booing our lads.It’s poor form.

    • bowdenball - Aug 5, 2015 at 12:25 PM

      Well put. And in this case, if Desmond’s struggles are mental, booing him could actually have a negative impact on his and thus your favorite team’s performance. I have no idea why a so-called fan would want to risk negatively impacting the team’s performance just to express displeasure.

      I agree that it’s OK to boo lack of effort, and I’d add character flaws and criminal behavior to the list. I was OK with booing Nyjer Morgan when his famous hissy fit allowed a run to score. I would have been OK with booing Elijah Dukes on Opening Night in 2008, his first game as a Nat after his appalling behavior in 2007.

      But Ian Desmond is pretty much the exact opposite of those guys.

    • Serious Jammage - Aug 5, 2015 at 12:42 PM

      Desmond is hitting .214/.261/.354 with a K rate of 29%, giving him a WAR of -0.6.

      Danny is hitting .249/.320/.411 with a K rate of 23%, giving him a WAR of 1.9.

      The point of the WAR stat is to determine who would be better off being replaced. I love Des, but at this point this is an easy decision to make from a numbers perspective.

      • Serious Jammage - Aug 5, 2015 at 12:45 PM

        I should add that Ian’s average WAR from 2012-2014 was 4.5, which makes this season’s aberrations (offensive and defensive) tougher to acknowledge.

      • bisonaudit - Aug 5, 2015 at 12:55 PM

        The point of WAR isn’t to determine who would be better off being replaced. Those decisions should be based on assessments of true talent and WAR is merely a measure of performance. The two are not the same. True talent is a forward projection while WAR measures past performance. You can use things like WAR and it’s components as a piece of your assessment of true talent but you’re also going to have to allow for, among other things, the aging curve, regression to the mean, and injury risk.

  10. jd - Aug 5, 2015 at 12:14 PM

    I think that Paplebon did a great job pitching around a critical error in the 9th that might have really rattled someone with less confidence and experience.I really like players who are able to put things away and perform through adversity. This is why I was so upset with JZimm when he allowed a bad ball call rattle him to where he gave up 5 runs in the inning.

    • ehay2k - Aug 5, 2015 at 12:18 PM

      Yes, I thought that was huge – didn’t call out Escobar either.

  11. adcwonk - Aug 5, 2015 at 12:57 PM

    Since the All Star Break:

    Ian: .234/.290/.453/.743
    Espi: .216/.237/.243/.480

    • IsawTeddywin - Aug 5, 2015 at 1:32 PM

      The usual fan problem of perception vs reality. Ian also has more than double the RBI’s over last 54 AB’s than Harper.
      Hey, Espi has as many as Harper, maybe he should take Harper’s place.
      LOL

      • adcwonk - Aug 5, 2015 at 1:55 PM

        Also: we can’t ruin the narrative that MW is an idiot

  12. rlndtln - Aug 5, 2015 at 5:02 PM

    Hard to believe up 1 after 6 last saturday and we do not get Jansen,Drew and Pap.Only MW could screw that up.Remember MW you did not have Max going out for the 7th.The kid gave you more than you needed.

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