As Clippard retreated to the dugout, his ERA since the all-star break stood at 5.64. He has blown four saves in the second half and allowed at least one earned run in five of nine appearances this month. Wednesday, he yielded a game-winning homer in the ninth. He has 32 saves this season, and for three years he has been the Nationals’ most valuable reliever. Now Johnson is entrusting him with some of the most crucial innings in the team’s history, and even he knows he is not right.
“It’s been really bad lately for me,” Clippard said. “I’ve been trying to pinpoint what exactly it is. I’ve been feeling really good physically, which makes it more frustrating. When I feel physically 100 percent, I should be getting outs. I have my whole career. Right now, it’s been pretty bad.”
Clippard’s implosion stood in contrast to Storen’s powerhouse performance Thursday night, when he chucked aspirin tablets at the Los Angeles Dodgers, striking out all three hitters he faced. Storen feeds on the adrenaline of the ninth inning — when working the ninth or later this year, he has allowed no runs in 72
3 innings while striking out nine.
Storen became the Nationals’ ironclad closer last year, when he saved 43 games. In the spring he got hurt and underwent elbow surgery. He is healthy now, maybe better than ever.
Still, after the game, Johnson stuck to the same plan he outlined earlier in the day. He will pick between Clippard and Storen, the two housemates at the back end of the bullpen, based on matchups and freshness. Storen will be the closer Saturday, but Johnson hasn’t made Clippard a full-time setup man.
“He’ll be fine,” Johnson said. “That one just got away. One battle. He’s been awfully good.”
Johnson pointed to Clippard’s velocity, still hitting 94 mph, as a sign that he is okay. Clippard, while remaining resolved, admitted he’s not.
“I’m searching right now,” Clippard said. “We’ll get it figured out. I’m not too worried about it. I’m still confident as heck. It hurt tonight. I’m not going to lie to you. It’s not easy.”
Edwin Jackson had set him up with eight dominant innings, ending his start by facing the minimum for the final four innings. Jackson was in line for his 10th win thanks to Adam LaRoche’s two-run homer in the first inning.