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As Drew Storen continues to make progress, the Nationals' bullpen remains in a state of flux

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When the Washington Nationals signed Brad Lidge in late January, general manager Mike Rizzo said he brought “vast knowledge” and would be a “wealth of information” for the young relievers the Nationals had in their bullpen. Drew Storen talked about how excited he was to “pick his brain.”

But none of that was enough to save Lidge’s job, a job that Rizzo said the right-hander simply “wasn’t performing very well.” Lidge was designated for assignment on Sunday morning, effectively ending his employment with the Nationals. If he had any knowledge left to give to Storen, Tyler Clippard and any of the rest of the Nationals, it would have to be given before he left the ballpark. 

A few minutes before Lidge would meet with Rizzo, Storen, the Nationals’ gone-but-not-forgotten closer, addressed his rehabilitation.

“I’m throwing off the mound three times a week, up to about 70 percent effort level,” Storen said, noting he throws 30 pitches in the bullpen right now. “I’ll do that again this week to get it up a little bit more. Throwing every day, long toss. It feels really good. It feels like it’s getting a lot stronger.”

Storen, who had surgery to remove a bone chip in his right elbow on April 11, is still targeting around the All-Star break, if not before, for his return to the major leagues. Manager Davey Johnson described him as “coming along quick” on Saturday. 

Storen would prefer to remain with the team as his rehab continues. His progress has been tangible and he feels as if he’s getting closer with each step.

“I haven’t had any pain,” he said. “It feels like it’s getting stronger. There has been legitimate improvement. The last bullpen I threw (on Friday) was probably the best I felt. My command is good and my mechanics are still there. I’m pretty happy with where I’m at.” 

Even with Lidge out of the picture, until Storen returns, the Nationals’ bullpen will remain in flux. Henry Rodriguez is still on the disabled list, though nearing a rehab assignment. The Nationals are currently carrying four left-handed pitchers, though team officials don’t have an issue with that as they feel both Sean Burnett and Michael Gonzalez are equally as tough on right-handers as they are left-handers and both Tom Gorzelanny and Ross Detwiler serve as long relievers.

But regardless, when they’re all healthy, the Nationals will have to figure out a way for all of their jigsaw puzzle pieces to fit. 

With regard to that, there are only two sureties: Craig Stammen and Ryan Mattheus, two relievers highly valued by Johnson, are the only two with minor league options remaining on their contracts. 

But the Nationals, as is their right, refuse to address how they’ll manage to configure their bullpen until they absolutely have to. The question a week ago was how they’d fit Mattheus back in when he was ready. They found a way with Lidge.

This much is clear: With the position the team is in, the Nationals cannot waste roster spots or time on players they do not believe are one of their best seven relievers. That was the reasoning used by multiple officials and coaches when asked about the move with Lidge and that will likely be their reasoning for any necessary (and sometimes ugly) roster moves that have to be made in the future. 

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