For the second time in two outings, Tyler Clippard found himself engaged in a stalemate, silently screaming for the batter to put the ball in play. On Friday night, he had walked Emilio Bonifacio on 14 pitches. Now, Tuesday night, Mark Kotsay stood at the plate and fouled off nine pitches, looking at two others for balls.
In the seventh inning, with one out and the Nationals clinging to a 2-1 lead and runners on second and third, Clippard needed to make one crucial pitch … and then he had to make it over and over again.
“It’s kind of just pitch-to-pitch,” Clippard said. “Those are big spots for the team. As frustrating as it can be to continue to execute and them continue to kind of fight off those pitches and put together good at-bats, you usually only get one inning out there. You’re just grinding pitch to pitch. I was able to win the battle there.”
Finally, on the 12th pitch of the at-bat, Kotsay popped up to shortstop Ian Desmond. Before he got out of the inning, Clippard also went to a full count on Chris Denorfia, a six-pitch at-bat that seemed like child’s play compared to the epic confrontation with Kotsay.
Clippard has needed to work harder this year, within the framework of one inning, than in years past. Over the past two years, Clippard has needed 16.3 pitches per inning. In a small sample size, Clippard has thrown 20.6 pitches per inning this year.
“I think people are more aware of what I’m trying to do,” Clippard said. “I think early on, in all my seasons, I really haven’t used my breaking pitches as much, which I think is a good thing. Later on in the season, I like to do that a little bit more. I might need to just start doing now, so I don’t have these 20-pitch at-bats. No, I think it’s a matter of sticking to my strengths. I think guys are aware of that, but at the end of the day, it’s what makes me who I am.”
So far, it has not stopped Clippard from coming through. After his marathon duel with Bonifacio, Clippard struck out Hanley Ramirez to avoid a jam. “It’s really easy in those spots to forget about the last guy and go get the next guy,” Clippard said. “Because it’s so important for the team. To get the W, that’s what you have to do.”
For Clippard, the intense at-bats do not add to his workload. Some relievers think their pitch count matters most in regard to their strain. Clippard thinks the opposite, which, given his recent performances, is a good thing.
“It’s the up-and-downs that matter,” Clippard said. “In those continuous innings, whether it’s 12 or 25 pitches, it’s not that much different. It’s really no big deal.”
FROM THE POST
Gio Gonzalez led the Nationals to a 3-1 win over the Padres and to the best record in the National League, even if their offense isn’t clicking.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOUNRAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse was rained out.
Harrisburg 5, Altoona 1: Jeff Kobernus went 2 for 4. Eury Perez went 2 for 5. Jeff Mandel allowed one run in six innings on six hits and three walks, striking out three and lowering his ERA to 1.09.
Winston-Salem 6, Potomac 4: David Freitas went 2 for 4 with two doubles. Kevin Keyes went 1 for 2 with a home run and two walks.
Hagerstown 9, Rome 2: Alex Meyer allowed two runs in four innings on two hits and four walks, striking out six. Matt Skole went 1 for 2 with a home run and two walks. Adrian Nieto went 4 for 5 with a double.