The Nationals pitching staff found its way again Thursday, allowing only one run after giving up 20 the previous two games combined. Of course there was the performance of playoff rookie starter Ross Detwiler. But the two best pitchers throughout the series have been Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen, the heart of the back end of the bullpen. In five combined appearances in the National League Division Series, the two have allowed no hits or runs, walked two and struck out eight.
“All of them [including Jordan Zimmermann] were throwing harder than I’ve seen them throw,” Nationals Manager Davey Johnson said after the 2-1 walkoff win. “Although Clippard has had some rest, and Storen pitched the night before, but just a lot of energy.”
Both setup man Clippard and closer Storen are, as Johnson often says, in a good place. If the Nationals get a lead, it should be a comfortable feeling for them when they hand the ball to the duo in the game’s last two innings.
Clippard had a found a groove after struggling in the second half of the season, when he posted a 5.60 ERA and eventually lost his closer’s job to Storen. On Thursday, Clippard’s fastball zipped at 94 mph and he painted the corners. It was a deadly combination with his disappearing change-up, which fooled both Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina. He needed just 16 pitches to pitch a near-perfect eighth inning.
“I felt good,” Clippard said. “I’ve been feeling good. The energy in the stadium is tremendous. It was unbelievable and all these fans have been great. You gotta lock it in and not really worry about it too much. I felt like I was executing my pitches really well and made pitches when I need to.”
Storen is throwing incredibly well right now, too. He has allowed only one run since Sept. 3, a span of 19 appearances. On Thursday, his fastball topped out at 96 mph and his biting slider dove across the strike zone like a dropping anvil. He faced 3-2 counts against all four hitters he faced, but threw strikes when needed. He also benefited from a spectacular diving by Ian Desmond to save a run and end the ninth.
“Tie games are weird, especially in the ninth,” Storen said. “You just have to simply things. You just have to get three outs one way or another. It doesn’t have to be pretty. Just get three and give your offense a chance to do something.”