WASHINGTON -- It was a bad day for Nationals reliever Drew Storen on Friday. He caught a bad case of the flu, was hit hard in the first game of a day-night doubleheader against the Mets and then was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse after Washington won the nightcap, 2-1, at Nationals Park.
Storen is having the worst year of his career. In 47 games, he is 3-2 with a 5.95 ERA as a setup man. He was Washington's closer until this offseason, when the team acquired right-hander Rafael Soriano. Storen's best season was in 2011, when he saved 43 games.
Manager Davey Johnson said that Storen wanted to work out his problems in the Major Leagues, but the team said no.
"He made some major changes. Even though he felt bad, he said he felt better doing it with the high leg kick and all that, but [he] just needs to get right mentally and mechanically, because I need him," Johnson said. "It's that simple. I don't need him where he's at -- where he, at times, fights the situation. He's too important to this ballclub going forward. He just needs to get right. He gets it right, he'll be back."
Storen wasn't available for comment, but his best friend, Tyler Clippard, was not happy about Storen's demotion. Clippard went so far as to say the Nationals sent the wrong message by signing Soriano to a two-year deal. The Nationals signed Soriano after Storen blew Game 5 of the National League Division Series against the Cardinals.
"I think there are a lot of things that led to this that could've been prevented," Clippard said. "You know, you basically send a guy a message this offseason for having one bad game, that he's not the guy for the job. He's only human. I mean, it's going to get to anybody.
"He hasn't had to deal with a lot of adversity. He came up and had unbelievable stuff. He had success right away. He came in last year, coming off of a surgery, and pitched huge games for us in a 98-win season, picked me up when I was struggling in September, picked our team up in the playoffs, had one bad game. You know, eight months later, you get to a point where he's struggling and you turn the page on him, you send him down. It's not necessarily turning the page on him because I think he needs to go down and regroup, get out of this environment, take a deep breath and regather himself."
On Friday morning, Johnson announced that Storen had the flu and needed to dramatically recover from the illness in order to play in the day-night doubleheader against the Mets.
But Storen entered with one out in the ninth inning of the first game and was hit hard, allowing three runs in two-thirds of an inning during an 11-0 loss to New York. The biggest blow came when Ike Davis hit the first pitch of his at-bat for a three-run homer.
Why did Johnson bring in Storen even though he was sick?
"Well, he got to feeling a little better," Johnson said. "Had to use him. Tried to get by with Ryan Mattheus, but [it] took him as many pitches as he could throw without taking a chance on hurting him. [Storen] had a new look, saw this new look, high leg kick, just left the ball up. That's all."
But according to two baseball sources, Storen was still under the weather when he entered the game in the ninth inning. Johnson told the media that bullpen coach Jimmy Lett informed the skipper that Storen was feeling better.
"I know Drew is not feeling very well," Mattheus said. "That's just tough, but I bet if you ask him, he would take the ball again. He is a tough kid. You have to commend him for going out there."
Harper aggravates left knee, doesn't start in nightcap
WASHINGTON -- After the first game of Friday's doubleheader against the Mets, manager Davey Johnson said that Bryce Harper had aggravated a left knee injury. Harper was out of the starting lineup for Game 2.
In the fifth inning, Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy hit a flare to left field and Harper ran up to make the catch. He banged his left knee on the ground during the process and was replaced by pinch-runner Scott Hairston after singling in the eighth.
"I think he dove on that ball and kind of aggravated it a little bit," Johnson said. "Afterward, he was limping a little bit. Seemed to be still running OK."
Harper pinch-hit in the nightcap, grounded out to shortstop in the eighth inning and didn't appear to be limping.
Harper missed the entire month of June with bursitis in his left knee. The Nationals sought a second opinion from renowned specialist Dr. James Andrews, and Johnson said in June that the bursitis could return at any moment.
"Bursitis, it could come back with one slide," Johnson said on June 22. "It could come back bumping into the wall. But just, I mean, is it going to get any worse from regular playing? That's the only thing I have concern with."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. Tom Schad is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.