Ability to pitch two innings makes Clippard “invaluable”

VIERA, Fla. - Good managers think ahead, constructing contingency plans for an emergency. The Nationals’ bullpen is a strength, but what would Davey Johnson do if Drew Storen wasn’t available to close games for an extended period?

Johnson doesn’t want to consider that possibility - last July, at the trade deadline, the skipper stumped for the Nationals not to trade Storen - but he knows he’s got alternatives.

Tyler Clippard, who usually sets Storen up, would be one choice. But maybe not the first one, since Johnson doesn’t want to meddle with a successful set-up man if it means having two pitchers working in unfamiliar roles.

“He’s so invaluable to use at times for two innings, and he was so dominant against right- and left-handed batters,” Johnson said of Clippard, an All-Star in 2011. “The starter gives you six and he can get you to the closer? That’s almost irreplaceable, that’s almost more important than the closer. Drew Storen did a great job last year closing, but you almost ... need two guys to replace what Clip can do.”

The bullpen Johnson inherited from Jim Riggleman in June was strong, but stacked with guys used to pitching no more than an inning. That’s what made Cliippard’s ability to work two frames even more critical.

“We’re fortunate here. We’ve got a lot of guys here who could close. Not many could do what Clip did,” Johnson said.

If Storen weren’t available, Johnson could continue to use Clippard in that role, merely shifting his work to the eighth and ninth innings, though that would require a new hand to take over in the sixth or seventh. Lefty Sean Burnett had four saves early in 2011 when he was sharing the role with Storen, and right-hander Henry Rodriguez picked up two saves when Storen was unavailable. Righty Brad Lidge has closing experience from his days with the Astros and Phillies.

Johnson thinks right-hander Ryan Mattheus could one day develop into a ninth-inning option, something he’s discussed with Triple-A manager Tony Beasley and pitching coach Greg Booker.

“(Mattheus) would close” in Triple-A if he doesn’t make the Nationals’ 25-man roster, Johnson said.

Rodriguez impressive: Johnson singled out Rodriguez’s bullpen session Tuesday as one of the highlights of the day. “His fastball was explosive and his changeup was unbelievable,” the manager said.

Walls and all: Beginning Wednesday, the Nationals will move their workouts from the minor league camp to Space Coast Stadium, where they will utilize both the main field and the field beyond the right-field stands. Johnson wants his club to get used to playing in their home stadium before Friday’s exhibition game against Georgetown.

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