The Nationals open tomorrow what promises to be the most compelling second half to a season since the franchise arrived in town in 2005, owners of the NL's best record but saddled with several major questions that need to be answered.
Today we're counting down the five most significant storylines to the remainder of the Nationals' season. Next up is storyline No. 4: Who winds up as the Nats' closer, Tyler Clippard or Drew Storen...
Drew Storen's pending return to the Nationals' bullpen was supposed to be neat and tidy. After missing three months following surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow, Storen would re-assume his job as the Nats' closer, with Tyler Clippard returning to the setupfireman role that made him so valuable over the last three seasons.
Then something funny happened. Clippard started pitching better in the ninth inning than he ever did in the seventh or eighth inning. How dominant has the bespectacled right-hander been? Well, in 19 appearances since assuming closer duties in late May, he's 14-for-14 in save situations with a 0.49 ERA and .088 opponents' batting average.
Considering all that, manager Davey Johnson admitted it would be all but impossible to demote Clippard back to a setup job when Storen comes off the disabled list.
So the plan, for now, is to have Storen get his feet wet pitching in a setup role, something that could happen as soon as tomorrow if he's activated as expected following a four-appearance, minor-league rehab assignment.
What, though, happens if Storen rediscovers the form that allowed him to convert 43 saves one year ago and seemingly establish himself as the organization's long-term closer?
It may not matter. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? At the moment, Clippard is humming along and showing no signs of breaking down.
If, however, there is a slip up at some point, don't be surprised if Storen finds himself taking the mound for the ninth inning once again.