Manager Davey Johnson today clarified his approach to the ninth inning. The save opportunities, he said, will be split between Tyler Clippard and Sean Burnett “in tandem,” depending on matchups and which pitcher is fresh.
Clippard made his feelings about closing clear – he wants the job, even when Drew Storen comes back. Burnett took the opposite tack – he’ll do it if the Nationals ask, but he knows Storen’s role is immutable.
“It doesn’t really matter to me,” Burnett said. “The closer’s Drew. As soon as he gets back, it’ll put us all in our spots where we’re supposed to be. I’ll take advantage of every opportunity they’ve given me.”
So far, Burnett has thrived, bouncing back from a rocky 2011 season, which he finished strong but still ultimately posted a 3.81 ERA, more than 1 ½ runs worse than his breakout 2010 season. Despite a slow start in appearances, Burnett has allowed one earned runs in 13 1/3 innings – a 0.68 ERA – while stranding nine of 12 inherited runners.
“I’ll probably start going to the whip with him,” Johnson said.
Burnett’s upcoming chance to close will not be his first. He began last season as the Nationals’ co-closer with Storen, and the experience, he said, led to his dreadful first half, when his ERA rose to 5.60 by this point in the season.
“I let the adrenaline get to me,” Burnett said. “I was just over-throwing and missing my spots, not letting the ball move. Going back this offseason, throwing bullpens, I was just hitting my spots and see what happens.”
Burnett has had two chances to close this year, and he flawlessly picked up two saves while cleaning up a mess started by Henry Rodriguez. While Burnett is not necessarily intent on closing, the experience made him eager for the chance if it arose.
“I mean, I choked doing it,” Burnett said. “Anytime you fail at something or don’t have success, you try to learn from it and try to get better. I’d love the opportunity to try to go back out there again. I learned from my mistakes and not being me, not doing what I usually do.”
“In the part game, we’re fine not knowing who’s going to pitch the ninth inning for sure,” Burnett added. “We all know who the closer is. Unfortunately, he’s hurt.”