Tyler Clippard took Drew Storen’s job as Nats’ closer, but they’re still wingmen

Mike Wise
Columnist July 6, 2012

With both equally messy, both unable to cook much more than mac and cheese, Drew Storen describes the high-rise District apartment he and Tyler Clippard have shared since May 2010 as “a two-man frat house.”

For more than two years, the routine has been the same: Two young right-handed relievers, best friends on the team, enter the abode.

Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. View Archive

But only one Washington Nationals closer leaves.

A year ago, Storen racked up 43 saves and claimed dibs on the job. His roommate mowed down hitters in the seventh and eighth innings and proved to be the classic setup man as he made the National League all-star team.

“Even then, he knew deep down I wanted to close,” Clippard said of Storen. “The attitude from him was pretty much, ‘I know you could be the closer for 10 other teams, but we just happened to be on the same team.’ ”

Then came the injury — a bone fragment had to be removed from Storen’s right elbow in April — that has shelved one of the most promising arms in the National League for, oh, just the franchise’s breakout season.

A year after Storen was saving games for the Nats, Washington is a National League-best 15 games over .500 with one of the most reliable closers in baseball: Clippard, a guy named Major League Baseball’s Delivery Man of the Month after converting 10 saves and allowing nary a run in June.

On Thursday, the same night Clippard threw a scoreless ninth in the Nationals’ comeback win over the Giants, Storen was in Woodbridge working an inning for Class A Potomac in his first rehab assignment.

Yes, deep down, Clippard is a closer. Yes, during his injury rehab, Storen’s job was taken by his roommate.

Imagine your good friend, the guy you compete against every night at home for video game supremacy — “NHL ’12,” “Call of Duty,” “Tiger Woods PGA Tour” or some other game — taking your gig in real life.

Every single waking moment, there is a reminder of the professional obstacle you must climb to have the job you want — because that obstacle is the same guy who has used up the shampoo in the shower and forgot to buy a new bottle. He’s also the guy whose dream job you had a year ago.

“It’s funny, we’ve never really had the conversation,” Storen said earlier this week, the day before his rehab start with Potomac.

Added Clippard: “I know it sounds like more should be made of it, but we both know it’s out of our hands. The beauty of our situation is we don’t make the call. In that way, we’re able to still support each other and know we really want the best for each other. I wish I could say that was just the right thing to say, but that’s really how it is. It hasn’t affected our friendship one bit.”

This must be similar to what Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte are going through on the U.S. Olympic swim team, where the two best swimmers in the world are competing against each other for the glory of the same country. The difference in baseball: There is no head-to-head duel.

There is just Davey Johnson, the Nationals manager, proclaiming Clippard the closer for now because he’s been so dominant since taking over the role.

And there’s Storen, working his way back with a targeted return of next week, trying to become as good a setup man as Clippard was a year ago.

“It would be easy to feel sorry for myself, especially with all the good things that have happened for us this year and not being part of that right now,” Storen said. “But I don’t look at it like that. I look at it as, I’m at least lucky enough to come back. And Clip is such a good friend, our friendship is so good, we don’t let anything come between it.”

General Manager Mike Rizzo probably summed it up best when he said: “It’s a good problem to have. Davey has always had an A-bullpen and a B-bullpen when his teams were really good. It makes us much deeper as soon as we get Drew back. Bottom line: When Drew went down there was an opportunity for a lot of guys there. And Clip grabbed it and he ran with it.”

Storen is not a shoo-in to be the setup man anytime soon, because Sean Burnett turned in some brilliant performances to set up Clippard the way Clippard used to set up Storen.

Remarkably, neither closer-at-heart says he is worried about the competitive futures getting in the way of a bond built at the ballpark and over burned mac and cheese at the apartment.

“If the role changes, it changes,” Clippard said. “But it’s all about staying in the moment for me, simplifying what I need to do each night.”

He paused for a moment. “I always wanted to be a closer, just like Drew,” he added. “But on the other side, both of us, everyone in this clubhouse, feels like we know we’re headed for the postseason. And all of us are going to have to have some big moments at different times the next few months, whether it’s in the eighth, ninth inning or beyond.

“So who cares about the other stuff, you know.”

Figures he would have a good closing line.

For Mike Wise’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/wise.

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