For the first time in over four months, Tyler Clippard emerged from the bullpen for an inning earlier than the ninth. For much of the season, Clippard has been the most versatile and, perhaps, valuable member of the bullpen, moving from setup man to closer and excelling at it when the Nationals needed one.
Now, his recent hiccups have come coupled with the full return of Drew Storen, who has been electric over the past few weeks. Nationals Manager Davey Johnson said on Friday that would begin sharing the closer’s role between the two relievers.
Johnson said Monday that his preference now is go to Storen in the ninth, given how well he has thrown the ball recently. But he insists he wants to use both relievers as closers given the situation and especially since Clippard has thrown well in Philadelphia against their left-handers.
“The guy that goes out there is the closer that day,” Johnson said. “How’s that?”
On Monday, Clippard pitched the eighth inning of a blowout 12-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers and Storen pitched the ninth. The last time Clippard pitched earlier than the ninth inning was on May 20, two days before he became the team’s closer and then saved 32 games. Storen, who saved 43 games last season, was out until mid-July because of elbow surgery.
Since the all-star break, Clippard has struggled. He has blown four saves, lost two games and as a 5.74 ERA. He has acknowledged making more mistakes than he has in the past, leaving balls up in the strike zone despite feeling healthy. Monday was part of Johnson’s effort to get Clippard some work in a carefree situation.
“He’d had three days off and I wanted to get him back out there,” Johnson said. “Same way with Storen. Didn’t want him going too long. Fact is I asked on Storen, ‘Did he want it?’ And he said he wanted it. So they all want it this time of year … Just wanted them both getting some work. Clip’s struggling a little bit. I have confidence in both of them.”
Clippard entered with a 9-1 lead and notched two outs on 13 pitches with sharper command of his fastball. Ryan Braun blooped a single to right field and then Aramis Ramirez smashed a first-pitch fastball to center field to score a run, the hardest hit ball of the inning. Clippard induced a flyout from Corey Hart for the third out.
Storen allowed the first two batters in the ninth inning to reach on singles but he massaged a double play out of Jean Segura with a slider and a game-ending ground ball out of Yorvit Torrealba with a fastball. Even with those two hits, Storen hasn’t allowed a run to score since Sept. 1, a span of 11 appearances.
“I’m not that worried about Clip,” Johnson said. “Clip’s still throwing, to me, good. He’ll be fine. Sometimes you go through a little rough spell and you get a little down on yourself, but he’s a very confident young man. He’ll battle out of it.”