I caught up with Nats reliever Tyler Clippard as he continues to work out in Tampa, Florida in preparation for the 2010 spring training. Clippard finished the season strong with a 4-2 record in 60 plus innings and a 2.69 ERA.
He had 7 straight appearances to end the season not allowing any earned runs and only once during that stretch did he allow multiple hits in an outing.
Clippard told me he was proud of the way he ended the season:
"I was. That was a big thing for me to end on positive note especially for a young guy trying to establish myself. It was good for the Nats to have a fresh memory of me doing well in their minds heading into the off season.
There was a great game situation at Pittsburgh in early June where you induced a 1-2-3 double play, what is it like when the ball comes right back to you?
"I remember that play vividly. We had the bases loaded with no outs and to get out of that is always a nice thing. I think I was ahead 1-2 in the count and I was trying to get the strikeout. It is an instinctual thing (when the ball is hit right back at you), you have no choice but to go home."
You don't always get the benefit of getting two outs with one pitch. Usually as a reliever, you come into very messy situations. What is your mind set?
"You are not really expected to put up a zero (when the bases are loaded and nobody is out). It is really about damage control. Maybe if I allow one run then I did a great job. You are just trying to do your job with the least amount of damage."
Are you more happy being a starter or a reliever?
"My whole career I have just wanted the ball whatever that means: starter, reliever or a closer. It doesn't matter to me. I get outs in any kind of role I am in. I have a lot of innings under my cap and I am confident when they call my number."
How about the caliber of players the Nats have added this off season?
"Experience and success: that goes a long way. I have been following this off season signings and am really happy with everything that has taken place. It is going to be exciting year. We want to set the bar real high. We have the capabilities to open some eyes."
How about offensively, it seems you guys can put up some numbers for the pitching staff.
"I was talking to some people about that recently. I have the utmost confidence our lineup to produce runs. We have good core guys in the bullpen. It appears right now we are headed in the right direction I feel real good about things."
How does your arm feel as compared to past off seasons?
"It is great. I have been kind of on same program for 4 or 5 years. So it is more of the same. I have been throwing since December 1st. Everything is on track as normal."
Have you been tinkering with any new pitches?
"Last year I came out of the bullpen throwing four pitches which is not normal (for a reliever). But I don't know any other way to pitch. I have always used my whole repertoire. I incorporated a cutter to both righties and lefties last season. It was a new pitch for me last year so that pitch will only get better for me. I have the fastball, changeup and curveball...those have always been there. I have to use them to be successful."
Tyler told me they are supposed to report to spring training on February 19th but he will get to Viera early because he likes to get his routine started there as quickly as possible.
So how did your trademark glasses come about that you wear when you pitch?
"Teammates were getting on me because I was squinting at the TV in the clubhouse. I wore contacts my first season, but I have such dry eyes it was a problem. I switched to the prescription Oakley's I wear now last year and they have been perfect. They aren't too tight, there is a little space between my head and the glasses so they don't fog up on the mound. I like them."
And yes, Tyler has said he does get referenced by others to Charlie Sheen's character "Wild Thing" Vaughn in the movie "Major League" who wore the specs on the mound. He does take a little razzing for them but he told me it is a lot better to see 20/20 on the mound and that is the most important thing to him.
Tyler is getting results too, evidenced with the impressive final couple of weeks last year and an overall ERA at 2.69. He will have a crucial role in the success of the Nats relief pitching this upcoming season and it is clear the Nats front office believes he can deliver.