With clear blue skies and temperatures hovering around 80 degrees, the Washington Nationals picked up the pace on the fourth day of workouts for pitchers and catchers.
Yesterday’s big story was no doubt Stephen Strasburg's pain free throwing session.
Strasburg had Tommy John surgery at the end of last season and the Nationals are in no hurry to rush the pitching phenom back any time soon.
The talk around camp today was the impending arrival of another ready made MLB phenom, outfielder Bryce Harper.
Harper is due to report on Sunday when the rest of the positional players report.
Strasburg and his battery mates worked on the fundamentals of the game like covering first base and they even did some situational bunting.
Of course, there was also lots of running and stretching. Strasburg did no throwing today.
The Nationals Spring Training facility is located in Viera, Fla. The team reports to Space Coast Stadium each morning and then walks the quarter mile to the four beautifully groomed and perfectly greened practice fields, which surround the stadium.
Upon seeing the walk by the players today, I came up with the name for my diary segment that will include player’s interviews, "the walk and talk with..."
Today I was fortunate enough to meet and interview a fantastic young personality in the Nats bullpen.
His refreshing attitude on playing the game of baseball really made me feel as though the future of Americas Past Time is in safe hands.
Today's walk and talk is with pitcher Drew Storen.
Nats Manager Jim Riggleman has called Storen the closer of the future in DC.
Storen had quite a whirlwind of a year in 2010. Aside from turning just 23 last August, Drew was promoted from the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs to the Nationals on April 30.
In the span of six days, Storen accomplished a lot for a young major league relief pitcher. He debuted in the show May 17 against the St. Louis Cardinals.
In three batters faced, Storen collected two outs, with Matt Holliday becoming his first MLB strikeout, as well as hitting his first batter, Ryan Ludwick.
Working two-thirds of an inning two days later, Storen would collect his first major league win against the NY Mets.
Four days later in an inter-league game against the Orioles, Storen smacked his first big league hit, a line drive to left center field off Kevin Millwood.
Storen is a born closer.
He was one of college baseball's premier closers during a stellar two-year collegiate career at Stanford University. He was a first team All-Pac-10 selection following each of his two seasons in a Cardinal uniform (2008 and '09), and he led Stanford in both wins and saves in 2009, becoming the first Cardinal pitcher since Jeff Ballard in 1984 to accomplish the feat.
Originally drafted by the Yankees in 2007, Storen did not sign so that he could attend Stanford.
After selecting pitching phenom Steven Strasburg with the number one overall pick in 2009, the Nationals drafted Storen, a native of Brownsburg, IN, nine spots later, making him the tenth overall pick.
The Nationals added a little more to Storen's whirlwind year when, on Jul. 30, they traded his good friend and their saves leader, Matt Capps, to the Minnesota Twins at the trade deadline.
Capps was leading the Nats with 26 saves at the time of the trade and was the winning pitcher for the National league in the All-Star game.
Storen has said on numerous occasions that Capps had a big part in his success last season, taking him under his wing after the two met at the Nationals Fan fest last February.
Eight days following the Capps trade, Storen knew his time was coming to collect his first major league save.
He figured it would probably come in L.A on the road and he was right.
"I kept sitting out there (in the bullpen) knowing that the call was coming,” Storen said. "When the call came I was so pumped up and excited that I don’t even remember who I got out, I think I got Belliard to end it.”
It was Bellliard he got out to end it.
Belliard pinch hit for Brad Ausmus and grounded out to Adam Dunn to end the game.
Storen would go onto to record four more saves last season with a 3.58 ERA in 54 appearances. He would boast a record of 4-4 with 52 strikeouts in just 55.1 innings pitched.
"I had closed at Stanford and was pretty good but this was like nothing I had ever prepared for, I was so happy when I got that first one (save)". Storen said. "I was nervous and excited all at once, it was all like a big blur.”
When I asked him if Nats Manager Jim Riggleman had sat with him to discuss expectations he said: "Not really, I know what I have to do and I don't really feel like that I have actually won the job yet. There are some guys here that are capable and I just have to go out there and do what I know how to do".
The scouting report on Storen is that he defiantly has a closer's mentality.
He does not get rattled and is intensely competitive, giving him the perfect closer's makeup.
He has a devastating slider and a mid 90s fastball.
Storen developed a changeup during the fall two seasons ago where he worked as a starter to further enhance all three pitches, as he throws a lot of strikes and attacks the hitter.
When asked about the veteran leadership the Nats acquired in the offseason by signing free agents like Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche, he simply replied: "I'm excited, the leadership these guys bring is important to me, as a young guy I just love the experience a guy like (Jayson) Werth comes with.
"I am constantly trying to learn and these guys are great teachers.”
On the great fortune of throwing to a future Hall of Fame catcher in Ivan Rodriguez,
"It's like I cheat because I have a guy like that back there, he knows the hitters so well, you know he's going to know how to throw a guy, and how to approach a guy," Storen said. "I don't really have to do a lot of thinking out there.”
The closer's job is not guaranteed and Storen knows this, manager Jim Riggleman said numerous times this offseason that the closer role was up for grabs.
Several other good arms have a shot to emerge.
Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard provide Riggleman with a great lefty-right option in the seventh and eighth innings. Both were very good last almost unhittable at times.
Todd Coffey is the workhorse in the bullpen but he will also get a chance to pitch late this spring.
Storen's biggest competition may be Henry Rodriguez.
In just his second year as a full-time reliever, Rodriguez went 1-0 with a 4.55 ERA in 29 appearances with the Athletics. He had 33 strikeouts in a little less than 28 innings of work.
If all goes well here in Viera, Riggleman may elect to have the competition continue up north by using a bullpen by committee approach.
Closer or bullpen by committee is not uncommon to start a season.
This approach is smart with young arms, especially when the weather has yet to turn warm. When you are thinking long term for a 162 game schedule, it just makes sense.
Storen is fine with whatever Riggleman decides as he stated on several occasions to me that he knows what he has to do and he is ready to do it.
“I look forward to the battles this spring. I welcome them”, Storen said.
"If Storen is the closer by March 31st, we would certainly welcome that, but we are not going to force that to happen," Riggleman told Nationals.com. "If he is pitching in the eighth, or if he gets an out in the seventh and then we need Burnett and Clippard to pitch the ninth, that's fine. Winning the game is more important than who gets the save."
The best thing about baseball and especially baseball in February in Florida is tomorrow is another day.
Check back to see who I can grab for tomorrow's walk and talk.