For two innings last night, Tyler Clippard pitched like the oldest, biggest kid in Little League, or the older brother playing with his younger brother’s friends. He was too good for the game to even seem fair. And still, the performance – six strikeouts in six batters, with hitters swinging at and missing 11 of his 22 pitches – was not really out of character for Clippard.
“He was,” Manager Jim Riggleman, “his amazing self.”
Opposing batters have swung at 166 of Clippard’s pitches and missed 61 times, and that 36.7-percent rate is the best of any major league pitcher. He’s accomplished his eye-popping numbers with simplicity, a formula he followed last night. Clippard fired low changeups and fastballs at the letters, a devilish combination coming out of his funky delivery.
“I was able to put the pitches where I wanted,” Clippard said. “I pretty much hit every spot that I wanted to tonight. If I can do that, I’ll get swing-and-misses. That’s who I am as a pitcher.”
Said Adam LaRoche, who in his career has gone 1 for 4 with a strikeout against Clippard: “He’s got that unbelievable changeup, and he can throw that heater letters-high. Down with the changeups, up with the heaters.”
Last night, Clippard threw 13 fastballs (topping out at 95 mph, sitting mostly at 93) eight changeups and just one slider. His two primary pitches look identical coming out of his hand and still look the same to a hitter when they’re halfway to the plate. Clippard can render hitters helpless just by alternating them.
“I kind of was speeding them up and slowing them down,” he said.
Here’s the breakdown of how he struck out six guys on 22 pitches:
Greg Dobbs: Fastball, changeup, fastball.
John Buck: He started with the only slider he threw all night, and then he threw him four straight fastballs, three of which he swung at and missed.
Omar Infante: Same as Dobbs – heat, change, heat. Speeding them up and slowing them down.
Scott Cousins: Changeup, changeup, fastball.
Chris Coghlan: The only other at-bat that lasted more than three pitches. Change, fastball, fastball, change, fastball.
Emilio Bonifacio: Changeup, changeup, heater. Notably, Clippard finished all six of his strikeouts with a fastball.
Clippard’s unreal performance came after he had not pitched since Monday. In the past, both Riggleman and Clippard have talked about how Clippard tends to pitch his best when he’s pitching regularly. He threw a bullpen Thursday to stay sharp, and Clippard admitted he felt better after some time off after throwing in 14 of the Nationals’ first 28 games.
“These last few days, I needed the rest,” Clippard said. “I had pitched a lot. The rest, obviously, did me some good.”