09/21/12 7:03 PM ET
Nats' road to division title not an easy one
By Jeff Seidel / Special to MLB.com
Washington opened a four-game weekend series against the charging Brewers on Friday. After that comes a three-game series on the road with the Phillies, also making a late run at the Wild Card spot.
Washington then takes on defending World Series champion St. Louis on the road for three games after that. Entering Friday, the Cardinals were holding down the NL's second wild-card spot, being chased primarily by Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.
The Nationals then end the regular season with a three-game home series against the Phillies.
Not having an easy time at the end doesn't bother manager Davey Johnson at all. In fact, he kind of likes it.
"We test ourselves every day," Johnson said. "It seems that everybody we're playing has a shot to get it in the playoffs. We're going to get their best foot forward. That's fine with me. My guys feel the same way. Come after us. We're going to be after them."
Johnson: Nationals will go with two closers
WASHINGTON -- The Nationals are going to use both Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen in the closer's role, manager Davey Johnson said before Friday's series opener with the Brewers.
"I told [pitching coach Steve McCatty] that I have confidence in both of them closing, and depending upon the rest, situation or matchup, either one of them could be going eighth, [and] the other one ninth, if I like the way the matchups are," Johnson said.
Storen closed last year and finished with a 6-3 record and 43 saves. But elbow troubles forced him to have surgery this spring, keeping the right-hander out for the first half. He entered the series opener 2-1 with a 2.59 ERA in 31 games since returning.
Storen earned his third save of the season in Thursday's playoff-spot-clinching victory over the Dodgers, striking out the side in a powerful performance. Storen was 1-1 with an 0.96 ERA in 11 September games entering play Friday.
But when Storen was out, the closer's job eventually landed in Clippard's hands. He'd been a solid setup man, even earning an All-Star appearance last year, but Johnson kept things as they were when Storen returned, leaving Clippard in the closer's role.
Clippard began Friday with a 2-5 mark and 32 saves, with a 3.22 ERA, pitching well in the closer's role, although struggling at times lately, going 0-2 with a 4.85 ERA in 30 games since the All-Star break prior to Friday. He'd converted 18 of 21 saves since the break, while he nailed down 14 saves in 15 chances before the break.
The bottom line, however, is Johnson's now got two closers. He'll still use Sean Burnett late, but with Storen all the way back from his elbow surgery, the skipper's now got two options, and he'll see where his information takes him.
"I'm not going to re-arrange the whole bullpen," Johnson said. "They're still my late-inning guys, and both of them are great closers. I'll mix and match."
Storen appreciates how far he's come this year
WASHINGTON -- Drew Storen closed out Thursday's victory over the Dodgers that clinched the Nationals' first playoff spot, and it meant a lot to the right-hander for many reasons.
Storen missed the first 89 games of the season following surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow in the spring. But he took the time to recover properly, made it back and enjoyed closing out the big win over Los Angeles.
"Last night was nice, because I felt like I was really contributing," Storen said. "It was just kind of a little icing on the cake. It made all those long mornings [doing rehab] in Viera [Fla.] worth it."
Storen said that since he returned in July, he's been able to put the worry about his elbow out of his head when pitching.
But Storen said he worked hard during rehab, while not trying to rush. He wanted to get back at his best and be able to really help the Nationals again -- especially since the team had started so well.
"I just kept saying 'Take your time, do it right, and when you get back, you're going to be part of a good thing,'" Storen said.
Storen entered Friday's series opener with Milwaukee 2-1 with three saves and a 2.59 ERA in 31 games since returning.
Johnson said Jordan Zimmermann will start Monday, with John Lannan set for Tuesday against the Phillies. The Nationals could wind up starting three left-handers -- Gio Gonzalez and Ross Detwiler along with Lannan -- against the Phillies, who have a number of tough left-handed hitters in their lineup. That would involve pushing back Edwin Jackson in some form. But the skipper said he's still thinking about it.
If Johnson did that, Jackson would then start the opener of the following series against the Cards next Friday.
Ross Detwiler's win on Thursday made him the fourth Nationals pitcher to earn 10 wins this season. Edwin Jackson was trying to be the fifth with his start on Friday against the Brewers, coming in with a 9-10 record.
Jeff Seidel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.