Reporting David Elfin
If evidence was needed that wins for relief pitchers are an irrelevant statistic, yesterday’s Nats game should be Exhibit A. Drew Storen allowed three runs on two home runs in the top of the seventh, but got the curly W when catcher Wilson Ramos clobbered a three-run homer in the bottom of the inning to secure the 8-5 triumph over visiting Milwaukee.
The contrast between Storen’s second straight miserable outing and Ramos’ joyous return from a second stint on the disabled list this year couldn’t have been greater.
After Storen allowed pinch-hitter Yuniesky Betancourt’s solo shot and Jean Segura’s single, pitching coach Steve McCatty visited the mound. Storen refused to engage McCatty and then promptly surrendered Carlos Gomez’ game-tying blast on an 0-2 slider over the plate.
That collapse by the 25-year-old Storen made it seven runs against him during his past two appearances and raised the former closer’s earned run average to an unsightly 5.40.
In truth, Storen has never really recovered from his meltdown in the clutch last October. In the franchise’s biggest game since it moved to Washington in 2005, Storen gave up four runs on three hits and two walks in the ninth, turning a 7-5 Nats lead into a 9-7 loss to St. Louis in the decisive Game 5 of the National League Division Series.
After five solid outings to start this season, Storen was battered by the New York Mets on April 19, rocketing his ERA from 3.38 to 7.11. In 32 appearances since, that figure has been below 4.11 just four times despite 16 scoreless performances in 17 games through Monday. And this without the pressure of trying to finish off games. That role belongs to Rafael Soriano, the free agent signed in January from the New York Yankees. Tyler Clippard, Storen’s former roommate who filled in as the closer while his buddy was hurt most of last year, handles most of the eighth inning duties, leaving the seventh to Storen.
After yesterday’s ugly outing, Nats manager Davey Johnson said that Storen is trying to trick batters rather than trying to get them out with his best stuff.
“It comes down to location, no matter what I’m thinking about,” he said. “If it’s over the plate and it’s hanging, it’s going to get hit … if you execute the pitch you don’t have any problems.”
I’d advocate Washington sending Storen to Class AAA Syracuse to try recover his equilibrium and save his once-promising career. Ian Krol has a 1.42 ERA in 12 games since he was promoted from Class AA Harrisburg a month ago yesterday. Let’s see how the 22-year-old does in Storen’s seventh inning role in the 10 games until the All-Star break.
While Storen continues to struggle, Ramos, who’s just a day younger, couldn’t have written a much better script for his return from a 44-game absence with a strained left hamstring. Ramos’ game-winning blow was his third hit of the day and gave him a career-high five RBI.
“No one deserves it more than him,” said shortstop Ian Desmond, who combined with right fielder Jayson Werth to go 6-for-7 as the Nats managed a split of the four-game series with the lowly Brewers.
The Independence Day crowd of 38,221 demanded that Ramos come out of the dugout to be acknowledged after the homer. While that routine is getting old hat for reigning Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper, Ramos called it a “great moment.”
That’s especially true because since he finished his first full major league season with a .267 average, 15 homers and 52 RBI, Ramos has known almost nothing but trouble. He was kidnapped for two days in his native Venezuela in November 2011. Last May in Cincinnati, he tore his right ACL, making him a bystander during Washington’s run to baseball’s best record and the NL East title. Ramos missed 15 games with the hamstring early this season and then reinjured it on May 15.
And yet, after yesterday’s explosive performance, Ramos is hitting .288. Only rookie second baseman Anthony Rendon has a higher average for Washington. Ramos has three homers and 11 RBI in 52 at-bats. Kurt Suzuki, who handled the bulk of the catching while Ramos was out, has three homers, 19 RBI and a .224 average in 210 at-bats.
At worst, Ramos should return to the split of the duties with Suzuki that was the case in April. The Nats are now 10-5 with Ramos catching, 33-37 when he’s not, a stat of which Johnson surely was aware when he announced that Ramos will be behind the plate again tonight when Washington opens a three-day series against San Diego.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin