As Tyler Clippard became a closer last season and his pitches become more important, he started to phase out his curveball. Pitching the ninth and protecting slim leads, Clippard decided he would force opponents to beat him on his terms. That meant his devious fastball-change-up combination. Clippard threw curveballs on only 2.2 percent of his pitches, the least he had ever used it in his career.
“There’s times in the season when the situations might dictate me not using it for three or four outings,” Clippard said. “And therefore, you lose feel for it. You only have one inning to work.”
Clippard is using this spring to regain the feel for his curve. In a 1-2-3 inning yesterday in which he struck out two Astros, Clippard threw four curveballs. Three of them curled over the plate for strikes, which meant “he was all grins afterward,” Manager Davey Johnson said.
Location is most important for Clippard’s curveball. Last season, Clippard essentially stopped throwing it because he couldn’t spot the pitch where he wanted. According to data compiled by FanGraphs.com, Clippard’s curveball was valued at -4.35 per 100 thrown. In 2011, though, it was worth 1.17 runs per 100.
“It’s always been a weapon for me,” Clippard said. “It’s just a matter of me putting it where I want to.”
“It opens up all my other stuff. If I can throw that pitch for a strike and have that in their heads that I can throw that in any count, it’s just something else for them to think about. It’s not that I haven’t had a curveball in the past. I’ve had it my whole career. It’s just a matter of throwing it more.”
Clippard could still succeed without a consistent curveball. Throwing almost all fastballs and change-ups, Clippard saved 32 games, and it took a bad stretch in the second half of the regular season to settle his ERA at 3.72. Clippard, now slated for the seventh inning, still want to use the spring to work his curveball back into his repertoire.
“My breaking pitches are something I need to work on religiously to have those throughout the season,” Clippard said. “So this is a good time to do it.”
FROM THE POST
Don’t be surprised if Bryce Harper produces a historic season at age 20, Boz writes.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
The Nationals will face the Phillies in Clearwater at 1:05 with a pretty decent pitching matchup – Roy Halladay vs. Stephen Strasburg. The Nats are leaving most of their regulars in Viera. Here’s the lineup they’ll send against Halladay.
1. Denard Span, CF
2. Steve Lombardozzi, 2B
3. Anthony Rendon, SS
4. Tyler Moore, DH
5. Corey Brown, RF
6. Chris Marrero, 1B
7. Carlos Rivero, LF
8. Matt Skole, 3B
9. Jhonatan Solano, C
– Stephen Strasburg, SP
DAYS UNTIL OPENING DAY