Drew Storen soaks in experience of first spring training

VIERA, Fla. — Maybe one day Drew Storen(notes) will sigh and mutter something about "the iPod league" when considering the possibility of yet another long bus trip across Florida for yet another spring training game.

But the days of echoing what one grizzled Nats veteran near his locker said Monday sure seem a long way off for Storen, a non-roster invitee who's said to be the closer of the future for the Washington Nationals.

After playing at Stanford for two seasons and being drafted by the Nationals with the 10th pick in last June's draft, the 22-year-old is experiencing his first spring training with a major league team. And if that fact isn't obvious in the way he's bouncing around and mingling with fans near the workout fields, it becomes clear in the way he talks about his first all-expenses-paid trip to Florida's Space Coast.

Simply put, Storen isn't afraid to display that he's as excited about the whole deal — if not more so — as you or I would be if we were handed a big league contract.

"It really didn't hit me until I got our spring training schedule," Storen said. "You look at it and it says 'St. Louis Cardinals,' 'New York Yankees,' 'New York Mets.' And it's not their farm team any more. It's the real New York Yankees. They're wearing their uniforms now and it's Derek Jeter(notes). That's when it really started to sink in for me."

Fellow rookie pitcher Stephen Strasburg(notes) may be getting more attention on a national level, but Storen's development this spring also ranks as a major point of interest for Nationals fans. Like Strasburg, he's seen as a core piece in Mike Rizzo's attempt to build a competitive pitching staff.

Over 37 innings pitched in the minors last season, Storen recorded a 1.95 ERA with 49 strikeouts, a 0.78 WHIP and a K/BB rate of 6.13. He also loves talking pitching, which is how one question from one beat writer turned into a mini-discussion involving Storen and several interested writers in Washington's clubhouse on Monday.

"I love to talk about pitching," Storen said. "I love to talk about anything."

Storen had an interesting day Monday, throwing a live batting practice session and breaking Nyjer Morgan's(notes) bat with a sinker. He also displayed his windup — a rarity for most closers — which comes equipped with a funky little pause.

And, surprise, surprise, he expressed simple joy over not having to pitch with a protective screen in front of him as the progressive spring training plan advances.

"Pretty soon it'll just be the hitter, the catcher and the umpire," Storen said. "I'm pretty fired up for it."

OK, so some of you might be rolling your eyes right now. And either Storen is the most easily pleased person on earth or he's one of the most genuine. But after listening to him, I'm going with the latter and if he produces on the field like he's expected to, he's bound to become a fan favorite in Washington. He certainly already has that status in Viera.

"I'm going to run into trouble if I do too much," Storen said when asked about his pitching strategy this spring. "There's kind of a fine line between going out there and having fun and loving where you're at — and obviously I'm happy to be here — but at the same time, I'm here to do something. I've kind of got to be in the middle of that, of sticking with what's made me successful. ... If I try to throw 100 out there, I'm not going to be successful."

BLS editor Kevin Kaduk is currently on a weeklong tour of spring training camps in Florida. To ride shotgun, follow him at @bigleaguestew.

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