Tyler Clippard isn’t in trouble, and Davey Johnson isn’t going anywhere. The hectic last week at Nationals Park forced General Manager Mike Rizzo to clarify both topics today.
Rizzo spoke with Clippard today about the critical comments Clippard made last night after the Nationals optioned his friend, reliever Drew Storen, to Class AAA, including Clippard’s belief the Nationals had handled Storen “very poorly” and should not have replaced him as closer this offseason. Rizzo didn’t approve the message, but he actually appreciated the candor from the one of the longest-tenured Nationals.
“We’ve got an open-door policy here,” Rizzo said. “His opinion means a lot to me. I disagree with his assessment of the situation, but you fight to the death to let them speak their mind and say what they want. And that’s what makes these guys what they are on the mound. You’ve got to have a certain type of attitude and makeup to pitch in the latter end of these games.
“They’re a competitive bunch, and the one thing I’ve never shied away from is when we have a discussion, we have it man-to-man, eye-to-eye, and I certainly can take his opinion. Like I said, I don’t agree with it, but I commend him for having a strong opinion on it.”
Between the Nationals’ 2-7 start to the second half, Johnson’s protestation of Rizzo’s firing of hitting coach Rick Eckstein and Clippard’s brash comments, the vibe at Nationals Park has been uneasy. With that backdrop, Rizzo was asked about his relationship with Johnson.
“I think it’s great,” Rizzo said. “I love Davey and respect him, and I think he feels the same way.”
When asked if Johnson would be the manager through the remainder of the year, Rizzo offered an unambiguous declaration.
“There is no chance that he won’t be the manager until the end of the season,” Rizzo said.
Rizzo chose not to address reporters last night because he had not yet spoken with Storen and was not aware of Clippard’s comments. He planned to address reporters this morning, and he took questions for 15 minutes, not shying from any topic.
For his part, Johnson dismissed the controversy surrounding Clippard’s comments. “That’s not news,” he said. Just because Clippard had made his displeasure public now doesn’t mean the Nationals hadn’t been dealing with the tension all year.
“I understand all of it,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, a lot of the things, that’s baseball. We had four new guys in the ‘pen before that. It’s a different culture. We messed up the golf game. We sent two lefties out. They were easy pickings. All that change is sometimes tough for them.”
Rizzo spoke at length with Storen this morning, too. Last night, Johnson, pitching coach Steve McCatty and Johnson had broken the news to him that he would be optioned. “I don’t think ‘receptive’ is the word,” McCatty said. By this morning, though, it seemed Storen was ready to talk.
“It was a very good conversation,” Rizzo said. “I explained to him our rationale for it and that he’s a huge part of this organization and he’s going to be for a long time and just need to get him right.”
Clippard voiced his opinion that the Nationals never should have taken Storen’s closer role away from him away his meltdown led to a blown save in Game 5 of the NLDS. Rizzo has always said he only wanted to improve the backend of the bullpen and not punish Storen.
“When you add a player like Rafael Soriano, we felt like we were strengthening a strength,” Rizzo said. “We feel that we had a shutdown back-of-the-game bullpen that would shorten the games for our starters. We felt like that would give us great depth. All the things that we talked about at the beginning of the season. There’s been a lot of closers that started off as set-up guys and the case was we had three guys who had closer’s experience that we felt could finish off games and we felt the back-end of the bullpen was as good as anybody’s.”