A bumpy April for Nats’ Clippard

April 29

Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard entered Tuesday’s game with a 3.09 ERA this season. (Nick Wass/AP)

Tyler Clippard, usually a consistent piece to the Nationals’ bullpen, has struggled with his command through the first month of the season.

“I feel I’m throwing the ball pretty well. It’s just a tick off,” Clippard said. “There are some poor pitch selections here and there. But overall, I still feel confident and good about what I’m doing.”

His 3.09 ERA isn’t devastating, but he’s surrendered eight walks and nine hits in 112⁄3 innings pitched, prior to Tuesday’s game against the Houston Astros.

In an eighth-inning appearance against the Angels last week, Clippard entered the game with the Nationals leading 1-0. He gave up three hits, a walk and four runs — though two errors from Ian Desmond kept those from being earned — in a 4-2 loss.

Clippard has mostly been burned on his change-up — a pitch he’s used 34.4 percent of the time, according to fangraphs.com. In that Angels game, Raul Ibanez lined a change-up to center field that drove in three runs.

“It is a pitch I’m getting hurt on, but it’s a pitch I throw a lot,” Clippard said. “There’s nothing really there right now.”

Starting slow in April isn’t new for Clippard. In 2012, he opened the first month of the season with a 5.40 ERA. In 2013, he had a 4.35 ERA in April.

But there’s reason to temper the concern. In 2012, Clippard bounced back in May with a 0.77 ERA and three hits surrendered in 112⁄3 innings. In 2013, his ERA in May was 2.13, and that was only because he gave up three earned runs in the final two games he appeared in that month.

Despite the struggles, Nationals manager Matt Williams is sticking with Clippard.

“We have our guys set in the bullpen the way we want to have them set,” Williams said. “The fact he hasn’t had location is worrisome on his mind. But I also want him to close down eighth innings for us.”

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