On September 5, nearly two weeks ago, Rafael Soriano came into pitch with a three run lead in the top of the ninth. The Nationals were getting ready to take the series opener from the Phillies. Three outs stood between Soriano and the finish line, which would have put the Nationals eight games up in the East.
He blew it. Domonic Brown led off with a single, followed by a two-run home run by Carlos Ruiz to make it a one run game. Soriano then got a groundout and a strikeout, and although he had made the game close, he was staring right in the face of a Washington Nationals victory. Ben Revere, the Phillies light-hitting center fielder, worked the count to 2-2. Soriano likely then delivered his final pitch as Nationals closer. Revere took the 2-2, a hanging breaking ball, and hit it over the right field fence. That was Revere's second career home run in over 1,900 plate appearances. Soriano was booed as he was pulled from the game.
The Nationals then announced that Soriano would no longer be in the closer's role for the team. They announced that they would be using a closer-by-comitttee strategy, but that has not been the case. Drew Storen has closed every game since Soriano's last hiccup and has been doing it exceptionally well.
Storen was selected with the 10th overall pick in the 2009 MLB Draft. He broke onto the scene in 2011, saving 43 games in 48 opportunities, and really proving why the Nationals took him that high in the draft. In 2012, he was hurt, undergoing elbow surgery, for most of the season, but still came back to save four games in five opportunities, as the Nationals went to the playoffs for the first time since moving to Washington.
However, in the 2012 National League Division Series, with the Nationals holding a 7-5 lead after letting the Cardinals back into the game, Storen allowed four runs to score with two outs, and took the loss as the Nationals went home with nothing to show for their early 6-0 lead. That was Storen's last pitch as full-time closer, as Washington signed Soriano to a two-year, $22 million deal to handle the closing duties for 2013 and 2014.
Storen has learned. Although he did have a down season in 2013, he came back in 2014 as the best pitcher he has ever been over his short five season career. He is 2-1 with a 1.29 ERA, 0.959 WHIP, and a 2.79 FIP in 57 games. He has posted a 42 to 11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 49 innings where he has allowed just seven earned runs. And since becoming closer on September 6, Storen has saved three games (he has saved four on the season), pitching three clean innings, while striking out six.
The one main thing that Storen has changed is well, his change-up. He added the pitch late last season, and now he is using it as often as 20 percent of the time. Hitters are hitting just .205 against it and he has struck out just as many hitters (15) with it as he has with what is likely his best pitch, the slider. It's been the equalizer that Storen has needed. When hitters are looking for the slider in a breaking ball count, Storen can throw them a change-up, buckling them at the same rate.
"Any time you can go to three different pitches in a two-strike count, that helps," Storen said to the Washington Post. "Adding that change-up has been huge for me. I can throw it against righties and lefties. It’s really paid off for me recently."
And as the Nationals' magic number to make the postseason dwindles down to six, it has to be Storen closing the games of the National League Division Series. And has to be Storen recording the saves and getting the outs as Washington makes their World Series run. And it has to be Storen as full-time closer. He's changed it all up and has done his job extremely effectively.