This is their fourth season together in the same bullpen. That experience with the Nationals, side by side in the bullpen, is now paying dividends. There is something about how they go about their business - quietly, smoothly and efficiently - that shortens every game they pitch in.
They seem to play off each other, and the rest of the staff - even the starters - feed off that inner drive.
The pair combined to throw the final two innings of shutout, no-hit baseball with two strikeouts, as the Nationals took the series from Tampa Bay Thursday with a 5-2 win.
“You just feel confident every time they grab the ball,” winning pitcher Gio Gonzalez said. “They have been doing unbelievable for us. When you see that and they are taking over, the rest of the bullpen follows up right behind them.”
It has been an amazing stretch for Burnett and Clippard the past four weeks.
June has been a shutdown month for Clippard. In nine appearances, Clippard has a 0.00 ERA, allowing one hit, no runs, five walks and 10 strikeouts in 8 2/3 innings. Opponents are batting .040 in June against Clippard. On Thursday, he tossed a 1-2-3 ninth inning, allowing no runs and striking out B.J. Upton to end the game. He has worked scoreless baseball in 17 of his last 18 appearances.
Burnett has been equal to the task. On Thursday, he tossed one inning, allowed no runs and no hits, striking out one. Burnett’s ERA plummets to a NL-best for relievers (1.08), after he didn’t permit a run in 27 of his last 30 games.
Nationals reliever Ryan Mattheus, who struck out pinch hitter Will Rhymes to end a major bases-loaded threat in the seventh, said what is scary is how good this bullpen could be if everyone was healthy.
“The mainstay in our bullpen, Drew Storen, is not out there yet,” Mattheus said. “Our guys have done a great job of picking him up. Clip is doing fantastic. Sean Burnett might be the best guy in the league right now.
“Everyone is doing a great job right now. That is what (bullpen coach) Jimmy Lett and (pitching coach) Steve McCatty have stressed, that we can be the best in the business. That is what we are trying to do is be the best bullpen in the league.”
Manager Davey Johnson worries he might overwork Clippard because he is so good. He even believes that Clippard has become more pitch-efficient as a closer than when he was the eighth-inning setup guy.
“I wish we could get a little more margin for error where I don’t always have to go to them,” Johnson said. “Clip has been outstanding. When he closes, his pitch count is down. A lot of times, he has been around 10 or 12 (pitches when he closes). Setting up, he was in the 20s (for pitches).
Johnson knows that Clippard’s career goal is to be the man. The closer.
“I know he always wanted to close,” Johnson said. “He has been very resilient. I stayed off him that one day after he had three straight close opportunities on the road. He didn’t really say, ‘Oh, I could use a day off.’ Everybody wanted to give him a day off, (but) I didn’t want to take that chance.”