Clippard responds to Storen being optioned to minors
Drew Storen's roller-coaster season, which bottomed out Friday afternoon during a disastrous ninth-inning performance, will now transfer from the big-league mound in Washington to the minor-league stage in Syracuse, a not-unsurprising move that reverberated through the Nationals clubhouse and prompted a critical response toward the organization from one of his fellow relievers.
Storen was optioned to Class AAA following Friday night's game, a move the Nationals needed to make to clear spot on the big-league roster for reliever Ryan Mattheus, who came off the disabled list earlier in the day.
"This is what's best for him," manager Davey Johnson said. "He'll probably have a hard time coming to grips with that. But it is the best thing for him."
An elite closer in 2011 who saved 43 games for a Nationals club that won only 80 for the season, Storen missed the first half of 2012 after undergoing surgery to remove a bone spur in his elbow but pitched effectively down the stretch to re-earn the closer's job heading into the postseason.
But a meltdown in Game 5 of the NL Division Series, in which he blew a 2-run lead with two outs and two strikes in the ninth inning of the deciding game against the Cardinals, ended Storen's and the Nationals' season on a sour note. General manager Mike Rizzo's subsequent signing of veteran Rafael Soriano to a two-year, $28 million contract to take over closing duties added to Storen's disappointment and created another mental hurdle for him to overcome this season.
Storen never did completely overcome it. Despite a strong midseason stretch in a setup role, he posted a 5.95 ERA while putting 65 men on base in only 42 1/3 innings, capped by Friday's game in which he allowed five runs (two inherited) to cross the plate in a span of four pitches.
After the news was announced Friday night, an emotional Tyler Clippard, his closest friend on the roster, offered support for his teammate while criticizing the club for putting Storen in this situation in the first place.
"I think there's a lot of things that led to this that could've been prevented," Clippard said, holding back tears at one point. "You know, you basically send a guy a message this offseason, for having one bad game, that he's not the guy for the job. He's only human. I mean, it's going to get to anybody. ...
"I can understand, you know, after the devastation that happened last year, maybe trying to make a change and say: 'Hey, we're going to bring in somebody that we think can get it done in that big situation," Clippard added. "It's just the wrong message to send, I think. But at the end of the day, that's what happened and that's where we're at. It's up to me, it's up to Drew, it's up to everyone in this locker room to pick ourselves up and move forward."
Storen, still meeting with members of the coaching staff, declined to speak to reporters after learning of his demotion.
Johnson, who spoke to Storen after the game, acknowledged the 25-year-old will need to work not only on the physical side of pitching but also the mental side.
"If you're not mentally prepared when you go out there, if you're having any distractions ... he just needs to free himself up," the manager said. "I don't know mentally he didn't like the role he was in and that was affecting him and he was over-thinking it. I don't know. But he needs to push all that aside and go down there and do the things he's capable of doing."
Clippard, whose role also was diminished some by the addition of Soriano, said he might have had an easier time dealing with it than Storen, who was the 10th overall pick in the 2009 draft and reached the big leagues less than one year later.
"I know the same message was sent to me," he said. "And I've been through adversity over my career, you know? So I know how to handle it. This is a tough day. He's going to be part of this organization for a long time, I hope, because he's good. And we need him. But if he goes somewhere else, he's going to be great for them.
"It's one of those things that I think was handled very poorly by the organization. But at the same time, that's the decision that was made and we have to move forward as a team. We have great guys in this locker room that are going to get it done. We're going to make a playoff push at the end of the season, I have no doubt about that. But this is a tough day."