Something is going on with Tyler Clippard and he knows it.
In last three outings, he has surrendered seven runs in three innings. His third blown save of the season came in an historic collapse for the Nationals, who were leading 9-0 only to fall to the second-place Atlanta Braves 11-10 in 11 innings.
With his team leading 9-8 on Friday night, Clippard was handed the ball to get three outs in the ninth.
Getting three outs had been something he had pretty much mastered since his return to the closer role, tallying 15 saves.
But suddenly, Clippard has failed to notch that coveted save in three of his last four opportunities. This recent struggle followed 14 consecutive saves.
Friday seemed like the roughest when Clippard allowed a two-run triple by the center fielder Michael Bourn to give the Braves a 10-9 advantage.
With rain coming down most of the later innings, the mound had to be treated to keep it dry. Clippard wasn’t going to use that as an excuse.
“I slipped a couple of times on the mound, but it wasn’t that big a deal,” Clippard said. “I just didn’t really execute very good today at all.”
For Clippard, those quick innings have vanished. He’s been pitching out of the zone to start an at-bat and hasn’t been getting those 1-2-3 innings marked by swift outs.
So when you aren’t getting ahead of the hitters or getting early outs in the inning, what has changed for Clippard?
“I just haven’t been real sharp lately,” Clippard admitted. “It is kind of just something you go through in a season. It is probably my worst stretch I have had in a long time. It is something I have to work through and figure out. It hasn’t been real good lately.”
Clippard isn’t the only person on the team that isn’t feeling great about where he is at.
Manager Davey Johnson has gotten to the point where he has noticed that Clippard is not pitching the same as he did for most of the first half of the season.
“I am a little concerned,” Johnson said. “(He) was a little wild tonight. He is not wild. He hasn’t been wild at all in that role.”
Clippard said he is not fatigued and physically he has no complaints, despite this rough patch. He feels there is no reason for him to be used less or more infrequently because of a few shaky appearances.
“I am used to having this type of workload,” Clippard said. “It is actually been a lot less. I haven’t been pitching two innings, it has been one inning at a time. That is really not an issue. I feel good.”
As far as what this game means from the bullpen’s standpoint, Clippard said it is right up there with one of the most difficult losses of the season.
“It hurts. It hurts bad,” he said. “We got to win that game, bottom line. We usually do. Ninety-nine out of 100 times, we will win that game. It is a frustrating loss. Big game, but nothing you can do about it. We win these next three games, it’s a totally different story. You just got to move forward.”
Not only did the Nationals lose a huge game when they had a big lead, but it took 4 hours, 21 minutes, and they have 18 innings scheduled in the next 22 hours.
Clippard said he is available Saturday, despite pitching three of the last four days.
“Definitely, yeah, I feel good,” he said.
Johnson appears to want to rest his beleaguered closer. For Clippard, like any pitcher, erasing a bad memory comes from his next chance on the hill.
He might have to wait till Sunday to clear his mind.