Reliever Tyler Clippard’s spring took an astonishingly bad turn this afternoon. He entered in the ninth with the Nationals holding a 7-3 lead over the Astros. Clippard issued two walks, yielded four hits – three of which reached the warning track – and threw a passed ball. After Anderson Hernandez ripped a two-out RBI single to left, Clippard walked off the mound having allowed five runs and the Nationals having lost, 8-7.

“It kind of snowballed on me a little,” Clippard said. “I wasn’t able to make the pitches when I needed to, and that’s kind of mind my own fault. You try not to lose focus, and I feel like I did a little bit today, which is probably the most frustrating thing about my outing. You’re going to make bad pitches. It’s kind of a wake-up call. Maybe I’m taking things for granted around here, and that’s not something I can do right now.”

Clippard’s focus may have waned because of a change to his usual routine. During the middle portion of the game, Clippard began throwing in the bullpen. He did not enter the game, and he sat back down until the ninth, when he warmed up again and then entered.

“It’s a long day to sit there,” pitching coach Steve McCatty said. “He got up, and then you get off track. It’s part of the game. Sometimes, that happens.”

Coming off a strong season and with the closer’s role up for grabs, Clippard has not made a strong argument for himself. Before today’s implosion, Clippard had been somewhat hot-and-cold, allowing three earned runs in four innings. Manager Jim Riggleman had no worries about Clippard, though, until today’s rocky outing.

“That concerned me, what I saw there today,” Riggleman said. “But before that, I thought he looked fine. Usually, when Clipp has a situation where he starts like that, he gets in four or five pitches and he regroups and gets it together. Today, he didn’t.”