Tyler Clippard returns to form in Nationals’ bullpen


Tyler Clippard. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
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Since late April, Tyler Clippard has quietly returned to form. The durable right-handed reliever, one of the best in baseball over the past few years, began the season slowly. In the first three weeks alone, Clippard had lost three ties and blown two leads.

But since then, Clippard has been mostly dominant. He hasn’t allowed an earned run in 21 straight appearances. During that span, he allowed four unearned runs, all in one outing on April 21 against the Angels. (He wasn’t charged with the runs because of an error to start the inning, but he did allow a single, double and walked a batter after).

Over the past 18 2/3 innings spread over those 21 appearances, Clippard has allowed only 12 hits and struck out 20 batters. He has walked 10 batters, but his command has improved dramatically since his rough early stretch. He has been an important part of the Nationals’ major league-leading 2.16 bullpen ERA.

“I felt good in spring training,” Clippard said. “April was just kinda one of those months. Over the course of the season, a six-month span, you’re going to have your spouts of not being as sharp and April always seems to be one of those months for me. I’ve tried to figure out why that is but I don’t really know. It’s one of those things where I have good springs going into the season and felt good in April. I’ve had worse Aprils. It wasn’t too bad.”

Clippard was used heavily in the first month or so of the season. In the Nationals’ first 40 games, he appeared in half of them, placing him near the top in the majors in appearances. Even two weeks ago, Clippard felt normal arm tightness from the workload. Manager Matt Williams has leaned less on Clippard, who said the workload didn’t affect him.

Clippard, instead, believes the biggest for his improvement has been his improved command. He has located his fastball and change-up better than before. In the first month of the season, opponents hit .200 against his fastball and .286 against his change-up. In May, opponents hit .105 against the fastball and .250 against the change-up.

“Late April and May, I had better fastball command,” Clippard said. “My change-up got significantly better. With those two things, that’s who I am. I can throw my fastball whenever I want and throw my change-up and it’s tough for those guys. That’s kinda what’s been going on. I can’t pinpoint anything specifically why.”

FROM TODAY’S POST

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How the Nationals weigh risk versus reward ahead of Thursday’s draft, and their 18th overall pick.

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

Nationals hopeful of July 1 return for Bryce Harper

Taylor Hill dominating at Syracuse

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NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Indianapolis 11, Syracuse 2: Josh Roenicke started, allowed seven runs, six earned, on eight hits over 3 1/3 innings. Manny Delcarmen and Michael Gonzalez each allowed two runs. Will Rhymes hit his third home run. Steven Souza Jr. went 2 for 4 and is hitting .370. Destin Hood and Sandy Leon each also added two hits.

Harrisburg 5, Reading 4: Omar Poveda allowed four runs on nine hits over six innings and struck out nine. Matt Grace earned the save and lowered his ERA to 1.14 over 31 innings. Caleb Ramsey went 3 for 4 with an RBI. Cutter Dykstra went 3 for 4. Kevin Keyes finished 2 for 4 with two runs scored.

Potomac 2, Wilmington 1: Brett Brach allowed one unearned run on three hits and struck out four over six innings. Derek Self lowered his ERA to 1.46 with 1 2/3 scoreless innings. Robert Benincasa earned the saved with 1 1/3 spotless frames. Shawn Pleffner hit his second home run and went 3 for 4. Will Piwnica-Worms added the other RBI.

Hagerstown 5, Delmarva 4: Austin Voth allowed three runs, two earned, and struck out five over seven innings. Cody Davis and Jake Walsh combined to allow no earned runs over two innings. John Wooten hit a two-run home run. Wilmer Difo and Isaac Ballou each added two hits.

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.
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