Apr 22, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
Tyler Clippard has been among baseball’s most-effective relievers for more than four years now, and he has shown an ability to bounce back from several rough stretches along the way.
Which is why Nationals manager Matt Williams has continued to show faith in the 29-year-old set-up man and why he didn’t hesitate to stick with Clippard during last night’s fateful eighth inning, even against the left-handed Raul Ibanez in the evening’s biggest at-bat.
“Clip’s been the eighth-inning guy here for a long time,” Williams said. “Certainly (his) track record indicates that he’s good against lefties. He’s just as effective against left-handers as he is right-handers. So I want to stay with him there. I want him to be our guy that shuts down that eighth inning.”
Clippard, of course, surrendered the 3-run double to Ibanez that turned a tie game into a 4-1 Nationals deficit. The hit came at the end of a ragged inning for Clippard, who allowed five Angels to reach base (the first on Ian Desmond’s error) and clearly appeared in trouble when he walked No. 8 hitter Chris Iannetta to load the bases in advance of Ibanez’s pinch-hit.
Williams would not have been questioned had he pulled Clippard there and summoned one of his three lefty relievers to face Ibanez instead. But Xavier Cedeno, who was warming earlier in the inning, had taken a seat and didn’t get back up again until after the Iannetta walk, too late to enter the game to face Ibanez.
“We have our guys set in the bullpen the way we want to have them set,” Williams said. “I think that the fact that [Clippard] just hasn’t had location is worrisome on his mind, but I also want him to close down eighth innings for us.”
The question is whether Williams will continue to feel that way moving forward. Can he continue to entrust Clippard in those situations given his struggles — five times now he has entered with the Nationals ahead or tied and departed with them trailing — or does he need to consider another reliever for that spot?
Williams has options if he chooses to consider them. Drew Storen has been downright dominant so far this year, putting only two men on base in 7 1/3 innings, striking out nine without issuing a walk. Aaron Barrett, who retired 13-of-16 batters he faced before getting optioned to Class AAA Syracuse on April 12, is eligible to be recalled today and very well could be in the Nationals bullpen for the second game of this series.
And what of those lefties? Jerry Blevins hasn’t necessarily been in top form so far, but he has 11 strikeouts in 8 1/3 innings. Ross Detwiler, meanwhile, hasn’t surrendered an earned run in six appearances, though only once he has entered a game with the Nationals leading, and only twice has he entered a game with a margin of fewer than three runs.
Perhaps Williams will start using one or more of those relievers in spots that until now have been reserved for Clippard. But there’s no denying the rookie manager’s genuine faith in the man who has thrown more innings than any other reliever in baseball since 2009.
Which means something to the guy currently trying to battle his way through a rough stretch, hoping he can get back on track soon and justify his manager’s loyalty.
“You want your manager to have faith in you,” Clippard said. “I think from my perspective, I know who I am. It’s good to hear that he has the confidence in me, but it’s not something I necessarily need. I’m going to go out there and do my job at the end of the day. Like I said before, whether it’s the ninth or the first inning, I’ll be fine.”
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