BALTIMORE -- Not too long ago, it seemed Drew Storen was destined to reclaim his closer's role with the Nationals once his rehab from right elbow surgery was complete. But with Tyler Clippard going 12-for-13 in save opportunities, it's going to take a strong effort for Storen -- or anyone else -- to take the closer's spot.
After Clippard saved Saturday night's 3-1 win over the Orioles with a perfect ninth inning, manager Davey Johnson said he's sticking with Clippard.
"Right now, he's my closer, and I can't see me going to somebody else," Johnson said. "[Another pitcher] would have to show up here probably in a setup role before they'd have the opportunity to close."
Despite his stated preference to be a closer, Clippard began the season as a setup man. But once Henry Rodriguez proved unreliable as the closer, Clippard slid into the role in late May. Since picking up his first save of the season on May 22, Clippard has appeared in 13 games, allowing zero runs and just one hit in 12 1/3 innings.
"I feel really good about having the confidence of Davey and my teammates, and that goes a long way," Clippard said. "When you're out there grinding and you know that everyone has got your back, it makes it that much easier."
Storen, who underwent surgery on April 11 to remove bone chips from his right elbow, has been targeting a return around the All-Star break. In 2011, he saved 43 of 48 opportunities, finishing the season with a 6-3 record and 2.75 ERA.
Right shoulder causing issues for Zimmerman
BALTIMORE -- Ryan Zimmerman endured another poor outing at the plate on Saturday night, raising the possibility that his ailing right shoulder might need another cortisone shot -- or, perhaps, a second stint on the disabled list.
Following a 3-1 win over the Orioles, manager Davey Johnson admitted that while Zimmerman isn't the type of player to speak up when something is physically wrong, he is concerned about his veteran third baseman. That quickly prompted questions as to whether Zimmerman, who wound up on the disabled list on April 27 with shoulder inflammation, could end up back on the DL.
"There's no question about it," Johnson said. "I think possibly even getting another injection in the shoulder. I'm that concerned."
Saturday night, Zimmerman went 0-for-4, dropping his batting average to .218. Though it's still early -- and he did hit .289 last year while missing 61 games -- Zimmerman hasn't had a multihit game since June 8, and for the month he's batting .167 with one home run and four RBIs in 78 at-bats.
"It's just one of those things; it's frustrating because it feels fine when I throw, it feels fine when I play defense," Zimmerman said. "When I hit BP, it's OK. It just hasn't translated into the game, obviously."
Johnson did say after Friday night's game -- another 0-for-4 outing -- that he would not consider moving Zimmerman down in the lineup.
"Well, for me, it's not like I'm swinging at bad pitches," Zimmerman said. "I'm just missing pitches that I usually hit. It'd be different if I was striking out swinging at sliders in the dirt or fastballs above my chest or whatever, but I've been working decent counts and getting good pitches to hit and I just foul them back. Particularly for me, if I'm in a hitter's count and I see a fastball, I'm usually not continually late pitch after pitch, so that's what's so frustrating."
One option could be having the cortisone shot and then using the All-Star break, beginning on July 9, to rest.
"At some point, you kind of have to look at it and say, 'Is it smart to keep going through this?' Or should we try and do something using the All-Star break to get it better so that, during the second half, I can actually be 100 percent, or a lot closer to 100 percent, and be a good hitter in the middle of this lineup on a team that has all signs looking that we're going to be very competitive in the second half?" Zimmerman said. "That's important."
Johnson reflects on past year with Nationals
BALTIMORE -- A year ago on Saturday, Jim Riggleman resigned as manager of the Nationals, paving the way for Davey Johnson to return to the dugout after an 11-year hiatus.
Riggleman resigned on June 23 due to a contract dispute with general manager Mike Rizzo, leaving the team with a 38-37 record -- the latest point in the season since 2005 the Nationals were over .500. After John McLaren managed on an interim basis for three games, Johnson finished out the season with a 40-43 record.
"It feels like about a month or so," Johnson said when asked how long it feels like since he's been back as a manager. "When you're back in baseball, it doesn't leave you. You think about it year-round, offseason. One day runs into the other."
This season, Johnson has the Nationals leading the National League East with a 40-28 record, 2 1/2 games ahead of the Mets entering Saturday. Though it may be tempting to look ahead to the postseason and what would be the franchise's first playoff berth since moving to Washington in 2005, Johnson insisted he's maintaining a day-at-a-time mentality.
"All of the questions I've ever had from anybody is, 'What about a guy's next start?' Or, 'What about three days from now?' And my answer has always been, 'I put all of my energy on today, with an eye on tomorrow,'" Johnson said. "That doesn't go any farther than that, and that's the way I basically live my life.
"I'm very comfortable living in the short term," he continued. "I think I'm lucky to be here as I am here now, with all that's happened to me. I've had a very fun life, very exciting, in baseball, with the Olympics, the World Cups, the World Baseball Classic, some great teams. This is my fifth Major League team, I've enjoyed every minute of every situation I've been in, and for me to think about what challenges I'm going to face six months from now is a useless exercise. Why go there? Who cares?"
DeRosa feels great, nearing return
BALTIMORE -- Mark DeRosa has told Nationals manager Davey Johnson that he feels great, and Johnson said DeRosa's return to the active roster could come as soon as Sunday.
Johnson added that DeRosa could be back on the field within two or three days. The utility man has been playing third base during his rehab stint with Class A Potomac, and Johnson said DeRosa would serve as the primary backup to third baseman Ryan Zimmerman in the Majors.
"[DeRosa] left me an email and said that he was feeling great," Johnson said. "He wanted to know what the plan was, and I said, 'Well, the plan was for you to get some at-bats and start feeling really good and let me know when you're feeling really good.' His answers was, 'I'm feeling great.'"
DeRosa has been on the disabled list with a strained left oblique since April 29. He also spent a few days away from the team to visit his ailing father, who passed earlier this month following a long battle with cancer.
DeRosa was 0-for-4 with two walks and two strikeouts in his two outings with Potomac entering Saturday. In 13 games with Washington before his injury, DeRosa played 82 2/3 innings in the outfield and 10 at third base, going 3-for-37 at the plate.
Mike Fiammetta is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Greg Luca is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.