Six years later, Clippard has become a mainstay in the Washington Nationals’ bullpen. Over the past three seasons, he has thrown more innings out of the bullpen — 252 — than any reliever in the majors. Only two other relievers, Matt Belisle and Jonny Venters, have even eclipsed 220 innings over that span. An all-star in 2011 and a 32-save, stand-in closer last year, Clippard’s durability has placed him among the most valuable relievers in baseball.
Friday night, Clippard started another season with his first appearance of the spring, a 1-2-3, one-strikeout sixth inning against the Atlanta Braves that took nine pitches.
Baseball for years has tried in vain to find a way to keep pitchers healthy, to halt the yearly epidemic of millions of dollars wasting away on the disabled list. In an era highlighted by the fragility of a pitcher’s arm, Clippard has not landed on the disabled list in any of his 10 professional seasons.
He credits a virtual village of 15 to 20 medical and training experts — Nationals trainers, chiropractors, massage therapists and more. He stays in constant communication with Manager Davey Johnson and pitching coach Steve McCatty and is never shy about telling them on the rare occasions he needs a day off.
“You have to listen to your body and know when enough is enough,” Clippard said. “I think there’s times in the last three years where I thought there was potential for something to maybe not go well with how I was feeling. But I was very vocal.”
Clippard does not get deep into the physiology of his arm — “I leave that up to the people who know what they’re doing,” he said. But he uses the myriad resources at his disposal and devours information in a quest to find better and better methods to maintain health.
“I just listen, and I’m like, ‘Okay, I’ll do that,’ ” Clippard said. “If I do that and it has no effects on me, then I’ll try something else and ask somebody else. That’s the great thing about being a professional athlete — I can talk to three different chiropractors with three different opinions. They’ll tell me different exercises to do, and I’ll try them all. One will work, and I’ll do that. It’s just a constant trial and error.”
Every offseason, Clippard spends three months at The Compound, as he calls it, working with Riley and his staff. He arrives there with “a clean slate,” he said, and starts the process of preparing his arm for one of the most risky acts in sports.