WASHINGTON -- When Drew Storen returned from a midseason demotion to Triple-A last year, he was a much different pitcher. And in 2014, that change has held.
The Nationals right-hander entered Sunday with eight relief appearances. He'd thrown seven innings, holding the opposition to one run on two hits, with no walks, nine strikeouts and an .091 batting average.
When Storen was sent down late last July, he had a 5.95 ERA and .295 opponents' average in 42 1/3 innings. In 26 1/3 innings since, he has a 1.37 ERA and a .174 average, with six walks and 24 strikeouts.
"That was big for me to end last year on a good note and get back to pitching like myself and attacking guys," Storen said. "And I've tried to build off that at the start of this year."
Upon returning in mid-August, Storen had gone back to using a more athletic leg kick in his delivery, and he's also changed his pitch mix. In the first part of 2013, before his demotion, he threw about 25 percent four-seam fastballs and 31 percent two-seam fastballs to go with his changeup and slider, according to BrooksBaseball.net. Since then, he's used about 46 percent four-seamers and 18 percent two-seamers.
Storen downplayed that change, but said his usage depends both on the hitter and the situation. For example, lefties see more two-seamers and changeups than righties, while four-seamers are more conducive to getting swings and misses than ground balls.
"It's about mixing it up, because a lot of times those guys are trying to guess where it's going to go," Storen said. "It makes a significant difference when you mix them up."
Storen had one of his best and most important showings Friday against the Cardinals, when he entered with runners on second and third and one out in the eighth inning, protecting a 3-1 lead. He got Matt Holliday to foul out and Allen Craig to ground out while using only five pitches, and the Nats hung on for the win.
It's early, but if Storen is back to being the pitcher who posted a 2.64 ERA from 2011-12, it would be a huge boost for Washington's bullpen.
"Any time you deal with adversity, it's tough to get through that stuff, but once you get on top of that, it makes you better," he said. "It's a tough game. But that's part of it."