ATLANTA — For Drew Storen, the finish line in an arduous rehabilitation process is finally in sight. The Nationals closer threw another live batting practice session Friday afternoon at Turner Field in Atlanta and now there remain only two major hurdles between him and a return to the active roster: a simulated game and a rehab assignment.
The simulated game will happen on Monday as Storen will throw two innings at Nationals Park on the team’s off day. The rehab assignment will come shortly thereafter.
And the return to the Nationals’ bullpen? Targeting the first game after the All-Star break, the start of a four-game series in Miami on July 13, isn’t out of the question and, as Storen put it, “seems logical.”
“I’d say that’s a pretty good timeframe,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson.
Storen cautioned that you can never say for sure because he’s not through with his rehab process and he has to make sure he puts as much emphasis and time into this portion of it as he did the early stages.
“It takes just one bad day to set me back,” he said, though his live batting practice session went “great” and he threw at “full tilt.”
“I think one of the best pieces of advice, (Nationals trainer Lee Kuntz) told me: Try not to look ahead too much. If you try to accomplish what you have to do that day, and you do it as well as you can, then everything falls into place,” Storen said. “So that’s the part of the process that has helped me out the most. Because I’m very much wanting to plan ahead. This last 10 percent of the rehab is just as important as the beginning. It’s kind of like doing a big school project. You’ve got to do the bibliography. You really don’t want to do it, but you’re going to get counted off if you don’t.”
Storen threw 40 pitches to fellow rehabber Chad Tracy (right adductor tear) and catcher Jhonatan Solano. Tracy came away impressed with Storen’s stuff and his ability to locate. The hitters knew what was coming, tipped off by bullpen catcher Nilson Robledo, who was catching, but regardless Tracy liked what he saw. If anything, he said, Storen’s velocity might not have been his usual mid-90s but that will come.
“I’m pretty amazed,” Storen said. “My elbow feels better now than I think it did ever last year. Even last year, after you’re done it would be a little swollen. I just thought that was normal. Now it feels really good.”
While it has been tough for Storen to watch the Nationals’ successful first half without him, he’s used the time to make sure that when he does join them he feels like an even better version of the guy who saved 43 games in 2011. He said he doesn’t have any of the issues pronating that he had in spring training and when he tried to rehab before surgery, which helps his changeup sink, and has found himself with a better feel than ever for his pitches.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Storen said. “I’ve never actually had to build my arm up before. I’ve always just thrown it around. So when you do that, and you’ll hear it from Tommy John guys, when you have to throw it 50 percent, 75 percent, you actually develop a lot better feel for the ball. And that’s what I did. It’s different, but it’s one of things going through the tedious process that you can get out of it.”
Storen will likely go on his rehab assignment in the coming week with Tracy, who is nearing his own. The Nationals are looking forward to getting both back, of course, and while the plan with Storen is to ease him in as a set-up reliever at first, they’ll make sure that they’re not rushing either player back before they’re ready.
“We want them to be really all the way there,” Johnson said. “Because at this time of year and with the roster we have I’ve got a lot of good players I don’t want to really lose. And we may lose ‘em. So it’s not going to be ‘Just go down there and prove you’re healthy.’ You’ve got to be doing some things down there before we make that move.”