Given Tyler Clippard’s dominance on the mound and Rafael Soriano’s recent struggles in the ninth inning, Manager Davey Johnson said he could turn to Clippard to close out games over the final month as the Nationals hope to make one last-ditch push for a postseason bid.
“I could,” he said. “We’ll see how it shakes out going forward.”
Johnson wasn’t anointing Clippard as the team’s new closer, but conceded that he might turn to him in ninth-inning situations of close games over the final month.
Soriano is in the midst of his worst season of his career as a closer. He has a 3.79 ERA over 54 2/3 innings. He is 33 for 39 in save opportunities. His six blown saves are a career high. He has squandered two of his past four save opportunities and has a 7.98 ERA since the all-star break. With a five-run lead in Kansas City, Johnson turned to Clippard because he felt more confident in his ability to protect a lead, even a large margin.
“I don’t think anyone is worn down,” Johnson said of 33-year-old Soriano. “Just, at times, he hasn’t made the pitches that he has in the past. I don’t know if the high fastball gets by in the American League than it does in the National League. I didn’t see him last year. I don’t think his slider has been as good this year as it was last year. He’s got the pedigree. We still have all the confidence in him.”
Clippard has been arguably the best and most consistent pitcher of the entire team, including starters. He has a 2.01 ERA over 58 1/3 innings with 59 strikeouts and a 0.823 WHIP. Opponents are hitting .142 against him. Clippard saved 32 games last season before he began to fade with the large workload.
Drew Storen would seem to have been the obvious choice to close a few games to spell Soriano, but Johnson has expressed some recent frustration at Storen’s pitching approach. Storen has been strong since he returned from working out his mechanics in the minors, posting a 3.60 ERA over five innings. But Clippard has been the surest thing in an uneven bullpen.
“He’s been the best pitcher, really, on the staff,” Johnson said. “… Storen, I don’t think he can pitch any better than he did in ’11. We still have high hopes for him. They’re all quality pitchers.”