Jun 23, 2014, 10:16 AM EDT
You don’t have to remind Tyler Clippard that the Braves have been his kryptonite of late; he’s already well aware.
The Nationals’ setup man has been solid all season against the majority of clubs around baseball, owning the second highest mark in the majors for holds with 17 and having recently come off a stretch in which he did not allow a run in 21 straight appearances. But Atlanta has been the one team he and the Nationals could not solve for quite some time.
“We had been struggling against them all year and it’s not a secret,” Clippard said.
Though the team as a whole has struggled against the Braves, Clippard’s personal trouble against them recently had been particularly alarming. Prior to this weekend’s four-game set, he allowed at least one earned run in eight of his previous nine appearances against Atlanta dating back to last season, a span that included two blown leads and three losses (for reference, he’s had just five losses in the last two years combined).
But after taking the final two games of the series over their division foe, perhaps Clippard and the Nationals may have finally exorcised some demons. The 29-year-old reliever retired all six batters he faced in two outings, even sitting down the heart of the Braves lineup in order during Sunday’s 4-1 victory.
“Clip went through [3-4-5 hitters] like it was no big deal,” fellow reliever Craig Stammen said. “That’s what a good setup man is. I told him ‘you do 3-4-5 and then [closer Rafael Soriano] gets the save.’ ”
After Sunday’s win, Clippard wasn’t afraid to acknowledge some of his past struggles against Atlanta, while adding that he hopes he’ll finally be able to turn the corner against a chief NL East rival.
“I have a lot of history with the Braves,” he said. “I’ve faced these guys a bunch throughout my career, they’ve been an inter-divisional rival. They know me very well. I feel like I’ve made adjustments in order to turn the page on that stuff and have success these last few games.”
So what, exactly, were those adjustments?
“He did a nice job of mixing in the curveball today,” said manager Matt Williams. “He was throwing the fastball where he wanted it, and he got through [the eighth inning] relatively easy. It’s encouraging for him.”
Williams added that Braves hitters had seen Clippard so much over the years that they had a good feel for his changeup and fastball, which is why they knew what to look for in recent outings. So it was up to Clippard find a third pitch — the curveball — to go to if he wanted to have a different result.
“That’s what this game is all about,” Clippard said. “You can’t be afraid to do something a little bit different, especially if you feel like a team is putting good swings on you. But at the same time, I think if I look back at some of the times I’ve gotten hurt [against the Braves], they [weren’t] really good pitches anyway.”
It might be too early to say that Clippard is completely over the Braves. But perhaps after a quality weekend, he may finally be able to treat them like any other team in the league.
“Throwing for strikes is key for him, ” Williams said, “regardless of if it’s [against] the Braves or anyone else.”
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