“I don’t think it’s something I can continue to do over the course of a 10-year career, which is something I have a goal in mind to have,” Clippard said. “I want to be here for a while. So I understand that the workload needs to go down.”
Under Johnson, and with an already strong bullpen that has improved, it will. Clippard will remain a vital cog at the back of the Nationals’ bullpen, but his usage — the nightly appearances, the six-out slogs — will decrease. While former manager Jim Riggleman rigidly used Clippard and Storen when ahead late in the game, Johnson plans to ease their burden.
“I want them all fresh,” Johnson said. “I don’t care, at anytime during the season, I never want to overwork anybody.”
In the bullpen last year, relievers felt that Riggleman treated every game as a must-win struggle, perhaps because he felt pressure to keep his job while managing without a contract beyond the season. Once Johnson took over, they saw a change.
“Davey has done a good job of seeing the big picture of things,” Storen said. “Not that there’s anything wrong with either approach, but for Riggs, it was like all hands on deck, every game. That kind of wears out the ’pen after a while.”
No one may feel a bigger difference than Clippard. Under Riggleman last season, Clippard pitched on consecutive days six times and recorded at least four outs in 15 of 34 appearances. Johnson still leaned on Clippard, but he lessened the “highly stressful” innings. Clippard pitched consecutive days four times under Johnson, and in 12 of 38 appearances he pitched more than one inning.
“To have a manager who’s on your side more so than just worrying about his job and winning games on a daily basis, who’s protecting his players, is awesome,” Clippard said. “I think it goes hand in hand: If you have healthy players, you’ll win. It’s a good mind-set to have. It’s going to help the team.”
In fairness to Riggleman, Henry Rodriguez had not emerged as a reliable option before Riggleman resigned in late June, leaving him with fewer late-inning choices. He also didn’t have a weapon like Johnson will have this season in Brad Lidge.
In Lidge, who signed as a free agent after four years with the Phillies, the Nationals have a veteran who they trust in any role. If they are trailing, they can use him to keep the game close. If Storen needs a night off, Lidge could close. If Clippard has pitched two games in three days, Lidge could set up.