Tyler Clippard has been so dominant as the Nationals’ closer that he will continue in that role, if he continues at this pace, even when closer Drew Storen returns from the disabled list, Manager Davey Johnson said after Saturday’s 3-1 win over the Orioles.
“Right now he’s my closer and the way he’s going I can’t see going to somebody else,” Johnson said. “They’d have to show me up here probably in a setup role before they have the opportunity to close.”
Storen became the Nationals’ unquestioned closer last season, and among the best in the majors, with 43 saves. B ut he underwent surgery in early April to remove a bone fragment in his right elbow and has yet to pitch this season. Storen continues to rehab, faced live batters for the first time on Friday and is still targeting a return around the all-star break.
Clippard, who has been the Nationals’ best reliever and primary setup man for the past two seasons, has been nearly unhittable since assuming the closer’s role from the ineffective Henry Rodriguez in late May. Since then, Clippard is a perfect 12 for 12 in save opportunities, has allowed no runs and only one hit, and struck out 16 batters. In fact, according to Clippard, it’s the best stretch he has ever had as a reliever in his career.
“I feel really good having the confidence of Davey and my teammates,” he said. “It goes a long way. When you’re out there grinding, you know that he’s got your back.”
Clippard, an all-star last season, had been clamoring to be the team’s closer, a role he he had earned given his performance in recent years. Once he was given this opportunity, Clippard has seized it. His growing rapport with catcher Jesus Flores and pressure of late-game situations have helped.
“We’re always in tight ballgames,” Clippard said. “I think that has to do with our team, and the importance of those late innings. It really helps me bear down and focus. When you have that, it obviously helps.”
Reliever Sean Burnett has also been a large part why the eighth and ninth innings have been so carefree for the Nationals. He has been impressive since assuming the role of primary setup man. Burnett (1.04 ERA) has allowed only two runs in 13 1/3 innings and notched eight holds since he and Clippard were handed new roles. When Storen returns, he may be competing with Burnett for that eighth-inning spot.
●The Nationals announced late Saturday that they reinstated first baseman Chris Marrero from the disabled list and optioned him to Class AAA Syracuse.
Marrero, 23, a first-round pick in the 2006 draft, injured himself during winter ball as he attempted to stretch for the ball at first base. The Nationals had counted on him to be a right-handed off the bench this season before he was hurt. Marrero is hitting .298/.365/.491 with two home runs, nine RBI and seven strikeouts in 16 games across four minor league levels.
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