One outing doesn’t define a reliever, nor is it cause for alarm when he blows a save on his best pitch. Tyler Clippard, the master of a funky delivery who has made a living with essentially two pitches, blew his first save in 15 tries as the Nationals’ primary closer on Tuesday night against the New York Mets. Before the game, he was a perfect 14 for 14 in save opportunities and, at one point after taking over the role in late May, had a 17-plus-inning scoreless streak.
Yet, on Tuesday, he allowed back-to-singles and then a three-run home run to pinch hitter Jordany Valdespin. The biggest culprit: Clippard not effectively throwing his trademark change-up, a pitch he uses often.
“Sometimes I think he relies on his change-up a little too much instead of locating his fastball,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “When he’s really good, he’s locating both pitches. I’m not sure what that pitch was that Valdespin hit out. I think it was just a mediocre change-up. Same thing that [Josh] Thole hit for a base hit, it was a mediocre change-up. I can’t fault Clip. He’s been superb.”
The first single, by Thole, came off a cutter that Clippard felt was good and Thole just got the better of him on. Against the next hitter, David Wright, Clippard fell behind 3-1 after missing with his change-ups. He got Wright to foul off a fastball, but with a full count Clippard again turned to his change-up. He left it over the plate and Wright smacked it to left field for another single.
Against Scott Hairston, a career .225 hitter against right-handers, Clippard pumped fastballs and struck him out on one of his classic ones, a letter-high pitch that at 94 mph seems hittable but isn’t.
Then, came trouble. Clippard, no surprise, tossed two of his go-to change-ups for strikes to Valdespin. He then threw a meaningless fastball in the dirt, which some hitters bite on. Clippard turned to the change-up, not a bad idea because the hitter could make contact with the dipping pitch and ground out. But the pitch started inside and broke over the heart of the plate, where Valdespin connected and smacked it for a home run.
“It probably wasn’t the right pitch to throw in my opinion,” Clippard said. “I threw it anyway and just didn’t execute it. If I execute it down and away, he could roll it over, he could swing and miss. I can’t really complain, it’s probably one of my best pitches so if you’re going to get beat, you’ve got to get beat with your best stuff. Just didn’t execute.”
This, however, raises the question: Does Clippard rely on his change-up too much? Of his 27 pitches, he threw 15 fastballs for strikes and 11 change-ups. According to Fangraphs.com, more than 34 percent of Clippard’s pitches this season have been change-ups — the third-highest percentage among qualified relievers in the major leagues.
That, inherently, isn’t an issue. If pitchers have a strong pitch, they rely on it. Tampa Bay Rays all-star closer Fernando Rodney throws his change-up nearly 33 percent of the time. Atlanta Braves all-star closer Craig Kimbrel throws his curveball, or slider-curveball hybrid, 33 percent of his pitches. Pitchers with strong sliders often throw it even more. Throw a go-to pitch too often or in the wrong situation and hitters, however, can capitalize. So more important than frequency is execution.
“That’s I guess a little bit of the negative of having a good [change-up],” Clippard said. “You have a tendency to go to it all the time and hitters know that, too. I just got to do a good job. I feel like I have been doing a good job of mixing it up enough to get them off of that particular pitch. But at the same time … if it’s a good pitch it’s probably a different result. I think that’s what it comes down to. “
FROM TODAY’S POST
(The Nationals have now won two games this season on wild pitches, the first coming against the Cincinnati Reds in the home opener, also in the 10th inning. Guess who scored the winning run in both? Ryan Zimmerman.)
Class A Potomac Nationals plan new stadium in Woodbridge, writes Jeremy Borden.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Pawtucket 8, Syracuse 3: Corey Brown goes 2 for 5 and raises average to .297. Yunesky Maya allows six runs on eight hits and has a 6-8 record with a 3.98 ERA.
Akron 3, Harrisburg 2: Ryan Tatusko allows two runs on one hit over 6 2/3 innings. First baseman Justin Bloxom and left fielder Jimmy Van Ostrand each collect two hits.
Potomac 7, Lynchburg 6: Left fielder Kevin Keyes and right fielder Francisco Soriano each drive in two runs. Drew Storen throws a scoreless seventh inning, striking out two batters.
Lexington 10, Hagerstown 7: Right fielder Steven Souza Jr. drives in three runs, and center fielder Brian Goodwin adds two hits and two RBI.
Williamsport 6, Auburn 5: Third baseman Carlos Lopez goes 2 for 5 and drives in two runs, and left fielder Estarlin Martinez hits a solo home run.