Traded from Toronto on Tuesday, Storen did OK in his first outing with the M’s. On Wednesday, he showed a nasty slider and good sinker but was credited with the loss after struggling when he went out for a second inning.
CHICAGO — Can the reliever reclamation project that the Mariners are running continue with one more repair job this season?
It started with closer Steve Cishek early and then turned to Tom Wilhelmsen midseason. Now the focus is on one-time Nationals closer Drew Storen.
On Tuesday, the Mariners swapped the struggling veteran reliever for a slightly younger struggling veteran reliever, sending Joaquin Benoit to the Blue Jays in exchange for Storen.
“It’s a situation where you’re hoping a change of scenery helps both guys,” manager Scott Servais said. “I don’t know Storen’s whole story in Toronto, but you look at the numbers, and they’re kind of similar. He gave up a lot of hits and just wasn’t as effective as he’d been. We saw him on Saturday, and he didn’t have a great outing, but in a situation like this, you’re just trying to catch lightning in a bottle.”
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Storen’s story isn’t complicated. In the volatile world of relief pitching, it’s a pretty common tale: Reliever is good one year, not so good the next. It was the theme of the entire Mariners’ 2015 bullpen.
The Blue Jays picked up Storen in the offseason from the Nationals in a trade that sent Ben Revere to Washington. Storen had been the Nationals closer for much of the 2015 season, but lost the job when the team acquired Jonathan Papelbon, despite having saved 29 games. It was a move that left him frustrated and hoping for a new start with a new team.
But a change of scenery into the hitter friendly American League East wasn’t ideal. Storen competed for the Blue Jays’ closer job, but lost out to incumbent Roberto Osuna in spring training. He struggled in the set-up role and eventually lost the trust of manager John Gibbons in those situations. After posting a 6.21 ERA with opponents batting .309 (43-for-139), Storen was designated for assignment on Sunday.
He couldn’t pin down what went wrong.
“I think a lot of it was I got off to a rough start,” Storen said. “You know how stats are. And it was an adjustment, adjusting to a new league. It’s a completely different ballgame for me. And I was adjusting to a new role. I was coming from a role where I was either setting up or closing. And then I didn’t know who was getting the call.”
With his workload less predictable, Storen struggled to find a rhythm.
“That was a big change,” he said. “I got on a good run when I was throwing consistently. Then my work innings kind of ran out, and I sat for a little bit.”
Much has been made of Storen’s velocity on his four-seam fastball. A year ago it averaged 94.1 mph and this season it’s down to 92.5 mph, sitting mostly at 90-91.
“I think that’s the culmination of not getting a lot of work,” he said. “Also I was used to pitching in high-leverage situations. You get that extra little oomph in there.”
Storen also went away from using his fastball. It was strategic considering the hitter-friendly bandboxes of the American League East.
“When you’re facing hitters in the AL East, you don’t want to overthrow,” he said. “That’s when you leave it up. You can’t afford a pop fly in that division. I concentrated more on my sinker.”
Storen’s sinker usage was up 19.2 percent in 2015 to 30.7 percent this season.
He also clarified some myths about the velocity.
“I could reach back for 94,” he said. “It’s not like I was always sitting 94-95 — I would just hit it every once in a while. Personally, I feel like the ball is coming out really well, and it’s moving more than it ever has before.”
It was moving in his Mariners’ debut on Wednesday night. Storen showed a nasty slider in the first inning and a good sinker, getting three groundball outs in the sixth inning of a 3-1 game. But in hopes of stealing a few extra hitters out of Storen, Servais brought him back out for the seventh. Storen hadn’t worked multiple innings since 2013.
“That’s something I don’t do all that often,” he said.
It showed. He gave up a leadoff single to the pitcher Gerrit Cole followed by a swinging bunt single from Jordy Mercer. Storen came back to strike out David Freese swinging with a slider. But a bloop single to right field from Andrew McCutchen loaded the bases. Storen lost an eight-pitch battle with Starling Marte to walk in a run. He was lifted from the game, but charged with three more runs when Nathan Karns served up a bases-clearing double on the first pitch to Jung-Ho Kang.
“I probably pushed the envelope a little too far with that one,” Servais said. “But I liked what I saw. He’s going to help us, there’s no doubt.”