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Built to close: Storen relishes life on the line

WASHINGTON -- From the very first moment Drew Storen was thrown into the fire, he knew he had found his home.

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Closing out baseball games -- and all the pressure and responsibility that accompany it -- had him hooked.

"You really become addicted to that adrenaline and that pressure," Storen said. "First tough spot I got put in, I was like, 'This is what I love right here.' Starting is great and everything, but I want to be the guy on the mound when the game is on the line."

In his two seasons at Stanford, Storen was all-everything out of the bullpen. Twice a member of the All-Pac-10 team, he was selected to several Freshman All-American teams after recording eight saves in 31 outings. His sophomore campaign, he led the Cardinal in both wins and saves, compiling 66 strikeouts in just shy of 43 innings.

Six years later, he's still dominating his peers -- only now it's against baseball's best hitters.

Storen has cashed in on 95 percent of his save opportunities this year, blowing only one of his 21 chances. He's struck out 35 and walked four, an 8.75 ratio that leads National League relievers. His WHIP (0.85) is a career best and his 2.08 ERA leaves opponents with little hope.

The Nationals are 30-0 when leading after eight innings this season.

"It's the way he's always been," manager Matt Williams said. "He relishes the opportunity to be the closer. He enjoys it and is fired up about it when he comes in there. He's doing a nice job."

As is the case with all closers, Storen's workload depends heavily on the team's success.

In May, when the Nationals went 18-9, Storen made 13 appearances without allowing a run. He recorded 11 saves in as many opportunities, notched one win and pitched a perfect ninth in a ballgame Washington won in the 10th.

In June, the Nationals are 9-11, with four of the wins coming by three runs or fewer. Fewer late-inning leads means fewer save opportunities.

"It's all about your pregame throwing," Storen said, citing ways he stays sharp with several days between appearances. "There are multiple things you need to do, but it's all about pregame throwing. Sometimes, too, in situations I need to warm up, maybe go in a certain situation I'll throw more to try and treat it as a bullpen [session]."

His last save opportunity was Friday. Before that it was June 10. Both were converted successfully.

But with as much experience as Storen has had and with team as talented as the Nationals are, he understands it's only a matter of time before he's called on to record several saves a week.

"I like that. It's a good thing," he said. "I don't mind throwing four, five times a week because it means we're doing really well."

The rest of the pitching staff likes it when he's on the mound, too. When that's the case, they know it's only a matter of time until music is blasting in the locker room.

On June 2, Jordan Zimmermann pitched eight innings of scoreless baseball. There was no debate about going out for the ninth.

"There was no discussion," Zimmermann said. "That's Drew's job, and he can have it."

Groundout. Strikeout. Groundout. Like they often are with Storen, the last three outs were as easy as that.

Jacob Emert is an associate reporter for
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