It's been tough for Drew Storen to sit on the sidelines while Washington has turned into the National League's best team this season. On Thursday, though, he took his first step toward rejoining the Nationals.
The 24-year-old who saved 43 games for Washington last season had missed all of this season so far after an April 11 surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow. He took the mound for the first time in a competitive setting Thursday, starting for Class A Advanced Potomac in a 14-3 rout of Frederick.
The right-handed closer threw one perfect inning, requiring just eight pitches to record a popout, a flyout and a groundout.
"It's a matter of getting your feet wet at each different level. You start out and you just keep building on it," Storen said of the rehab process in a news conference. "I know what I need to do. I'm treating this like Spring Training now. I know that if that was my first appearance in Spring Training, I'd be very happy about it."
While Tyler Clippard has assumed the closer role with Washington this season, Storen will continue to rehab one inning at a time as he prepares to try and earn his job back.
"I'm preparing to close, regardless," he said. "I know coming in the plan is to have me set up when I first get back. And that needs to happen, it's just part of the acclimation process.
"I'm preparing for that ninth inning, but I know when I get there, I have to work my way back in that bullpen because those guys have been throwing there all year and they know what they're doing. There's no room for error in that situation, especially with how well we're playing."
Storen registered a 2.75 ERA in 75 1/3 innings with the Nationals last year, striking out 74 and walking 20. In two Major League seasons, the Stanford University product has 48 saves and a 3.10 ERA in 130 2/3 innings.
His outing with the P-Nats on Thursday was his first appearance in the Carolina League since 2009. The Indianapolis native tossed just 10 innings with Potomac that year before a callup to Double-A Harrisburg.
After being selected 10th overall by the Nationals in 2009, Storen only pitched 53 2/3 innings in the Minors before Washington summoned him for his Major League debut on May 17, 2010.
Storen said one thing that stood out about his rehab outing was the difference between coming in at the ending of a game and kicking it off.
"I'm not too familiar with starting," he noted, "and I didn't even think about the fact that you have to be out there for the national anthem on the mound, so it's a little different for me. But I tried to treat it like the ninth."
As he attempts to return to the NL East-leading Nationals, he said one of the most important elements will be managing his health as he gains strength. He added it was difficult not to anticipate getting in on a playoff race.
"This is probably the most critical time to listen to your body, just because I faced some hitters today doesn't mean I'm 100 percent," Storen said. "I treat it like the first time I played catch, and you just listen to your body and go from there. Along those same lines, I don't anticipate any issues.
"I'm excited to be a part of [the Nationals' success]. They're playing unbelievable baseball."
Chad Tracy, also rehabbing with Potomac, went 0-for-2.