After 1.2 disaster innings thus far in the spring, we may soon find out how committed that the Reds are to Drew Storen.
Storen, who signed a low risk, one-year deal this past off season, has continued a trend so far in camp. Storen has not traditionally fared all that well in the spring over his career, but he is showing nothing this season to prove that he will be better than the 5.23 ERA that he posted during the 2016 campaign between Toronto and Seattle.
In his first outing on Feb. 28, Storen was only able to retire two hitters before allowing three hits and three earned runs. He also walked another. The good news is that those were the only four balls that he tossed in his 11-pitch appearance.
Then, on March 4, Storen allowed a pair of home runs in his inning of work. Over that span, he allowed three hits, a walk, and five earned runs. Again, 11 of his 17 pitches were strikes, but he was once again hit very hard.
With two teams last season, Storen logged 57 games and 51.2 innings. Over that span, he allowed 56 hits and seven home runs. He walked 13 hitters as well, which just makes the hard contact off him that much worse.
Storen had horrendous months in April, June, and July last season, but appeared to get better as the season went along. He closed the season fairly strong with Seattle, allowing 10 hits and three earned runs in 16 innings during August, September, and October. However, his stuff being extra hittable seems to have returned this spring.
Reports from Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer, had Storen putting most of the blame on his struggles in Toronto with using his sinker as his primary pitch over his generally devastating slider. Some of this appears to have some validity, as Storen went back to his roots after joining the Mariners and saw success again.
However, it was not all pitch selection last season. Storen lost some zip on the fastball and was sitting in the 92-93 range. There haven’t been any reports of velocity yet this spring, but that certainly means that it hasn’t bounced back yet. For a reliever, just a couple of miles per hour off the fastball is a huge drop.
Additionally, the struggles with Toronto early in 2016 could be chalked up to changing for a new environment if Storen didn’t struggle so much to close 2015 as well. In three of his last four months of that campaign, Storen allowed as many or more hits than innings pitched. His stuff was more hittable even in Washington, to the tune of 31 hits and four home runs over 33.2 innings in June, July, August, and September of 2015.
In his early successful seasons, Storen posted H/9 numbers in the six to seven range. That number has been increasing since that 2015 season. The decline has not been sudden for Storen, it has been gradual, which does not generally mean good things.
Though it is hard to jump on a guy with some struggles early in camp, while trying to settle in, Storen’s struggles still need to monitored at little more than some.
With his early showing in Spring Training, along with his issues early last season, Storen tosses up some J.J. Hoover warning signs if given leverage innings with the Reds early in the season. The squad was a .500 or better team in the second half of last season because the bullpen was solidified. Early blown leads cost the Reds at least five or six games. The season looks different with some of those in the other column.
Getting 2017 off to a strong start is key to seeing things go in the right direction, and questions in the bullpen do not help that cause.