Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen, the Nationals’ closer of the moment and the one working his way back to the majors, each had an adventurous afternoon yesterday. They do not like to talk baseball away from the park, but if they wanted the two roommates could share quite a conversation about their performances.
While rehabbing for Class AA Harrisburg, Storen allowed four runs in 2/3 of an inning. Storen is only trying to build up arm strength. The way his arm feels as he recovers from the mid-April surgery he underwent to remove a bone chip from his elbow matters far more than the results. With uncertain defense and a host of other factors, weird stuff can happen in the minors on assignment.
Still, giving up three hits, a walk and a home run to six batters is never part of the plan. Nationals coaches wanted to see the sharpness of Storen’s stuff improve before they brought him to the majors. We’ll find out later today how it really went, but it seems unlikely that the outing would help Storen’s cause.
Only a few minutes after Storen pitched, Clippard took the mound in Miami with the Nationals leading, 4-0. In a flash, he turned a rocking-chair finish into a nail-biter. Clippard allowed a single and two walks, bringing the tying run to the plate with no outs.
“I didn’t want to do that at all,” Clippard said. “I probably took a little bit for granted the length of the previous inning. I don’t think I threw enough pitches as I needed to get loose in the bullpen. That’s on me.”
Just as quickly as he nearly unraveled, Clippard pulled himself together. Justin Ruggiano, who batted cleanup for the Marlins the day before, had the first chance to put the Marlins on the board.
Having lost the strike zone, Clippard jumped ahead in the count with a fastball. “I kind of just wanted to get strike one on Ruggiano,” Clippard said. “I thought that was a big pitch for me.”
Clippard would eventually strike out Ruggiano swinging at a 93-mph fastball right down the middle, the kind of pitch only Clippard, with his disappearing changeup and optical-illusion motion, could get away with.
“All the other thoughts are out the window, and you’re just kind of locking back in,” Clippard said. “You can’t really worry about or think about what you did good or bad prior to that situation. You can’t change it. You’re in it.”
Clippard continued to pull himself out of the mess when Jose Reyes popped up the first pitch he saw to the catcher. He needed only one more out to strand all three runners. Omar Infante lofted a fly ball in foul territory down the right field line.
Bryce Harper sprinted in from right and Steve Lombardozzi bolted from second base. With the crowd screaming, neither heard the other call for the ball. Harper slid on knees while Lombardozzi careened into him and toppled over his shoulders.
“I was screaming as loud as I could,” Harper said. “Lombo was screaming, I didn’t hear him. All I thought about was, wide receiver coming through the middle, and I better catch this ball. You’re gonna get hammered, but you better catch the ball. That’s the only thing I was thinking about.”
On the mound, Clippard raised his arms, unsure of what would happen. Then he pumped his fists as he realized Harper had made the catch. Harper stayed down for a moment, and Lombardozzi got up slowly, too. But as they walked back into the dugout they smiled and laughed, the eventful inning having ended well.
“Things happen fast,” Clippard said. “At this level, that’s something that I’ve experienced in the past. I took that experience out there and kind of just beared down, and luckily enough I made some pitches that I needed to in those big spots and got out of it.”
FROM THE POST
Stephen Strasburg got back to his fastball in the Nationals’ 4-0 win over the Marlins.
Over the weekend, James Wagner had a really cool story about a minor league bullpen catcher.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Scranton/Wiles-Barre 4, Syracuse 2: Josh Johnson returned after missing a month and a half following a positive drug test. Zach Duke allowed four runs in seven innings on 10 hits and no walks, striking out two.
Richmond 8, Harrisburg 7: Zach Walters went 3 for 5. Justin Bloxom went 1 for 4 with a double and a walk. Danny Rosenbaum allowed one run in six innings on nine hits and a walk, striking out five.
Potomac was off.
Hagerstown was suspended.
Connecticut 5, Auburn 4: Estarlin Martinez went 2 for 3 with a double and a walk. Bryan Harper allowed no runs in 1/3 of an inning on no hits and a walk, striking out one.