Since Davey Johnson announced that he was going with a closer-by-committee approach following Henry Rodriguez’s struggles in the ninth inning, the Nationals have had four save opportunities.
Tyler Clippard has gotten all four of them. And he’s converted all four times.
Johnson’s closer-by-committee has been more of a closer-by-Clippard so far, and it’s not hard to see why the Nationals skipper keeps going back to the 27-year-old right-hander when Washington has a slim lead in the ninth inning.
In his four save opportunities, Clippard faced 11 hitters, and not one reached base. He’s struck out six of those 11 batters, including the final two in his most recent save, Saturday against the Braves.
“I try to approach each outing the same no matter what role I’m in, and kind of block out all the extra stuff,” Clippard said after that save. “It’s fun. It’s fun for me. You feed off the crowd a little bit more, a little more adrenaline. I think for some, it might hinder them. For me, I feel like it helps me bear down, focus a little more. So far, so good.”
Prior to getting his first save chance back on May 22, Clippard’s ERA was 3.32 and he had a 1.21 WHIP. The ERA now stands at 2.78 - the lowest it’s been since April 12 - and his WHIP has dropped to 1.01.
“I just feel comfortable on the mound,” Clippard said. “Whatever the situation is, even before I was getting save opportunities, I was pitching pretty good, and I just feel good out there right now.”
When Johnson first made the change with the closer spot, he said he would base his ninth-inning decisions on specific matchups and which relievers were rested. So far, it sure would appear that Clippard has taken over the closer’s role, but Johnson still shies away from officially naming Clippard his set ninth-inning guy.
“I don’t want to overwork him,” Johnson said. “It’s a new role for him. ... He’s too valuable. I don’t want to take the chance of stringing a whole bunch of save situations together.”
Clippard still gets the ball from each save labeled by a clubhouse staffer and put in his locker, another sign that he’s really enjoying this experience. The starter-turned-setup man talked before his first save try this season about how badly he wanted the opportunity to close games, and now, not only is he getting that chance, but he’s finding success.
“It’s satisfying,” Clippard said. “It’s still early. I’ve only got four saves, and I think basically ... I try to take the mindset of getting outs whenever they need me to get outs to help the team win, and just kind of simplify it like that. If I try to do too much or think about it too much, or try to be like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is the only opportunity I’m getting,’ or anything like that, then it’s not going to happen.
“I’m just trying to simplify it and get outs and feel comfortable out there. Whatever they want me to throw, I’ll do it, and so far, so good.”
Update: The Nationals have taken Cal second baseman Tony Renda with their second round pick (No. 80 overall).
Renda is a gritty second baseman who draws comparisons to Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia (don’t all gritty middle infielders draw comparisons to him these days?). Like Pedroia, Renda has a good amount of power for his size - he’s 5-foot-8, 180 lbs. - and scouts love his work ethic and all-out attitude on the field. Here’s some video from earlier this year.
Scouting director Kris Kline says Renda has “the quickest bat in the draft. He brings controlled aggression and a strong, compact swing. He has tremendous makeup and is a great kid.”
This season, which was his junior campaign, Renda batted .342 for the Golden Bears with a .436 on-base percentage and .484 slugging percentage. He hit five home runs and had 27 RBIs.
As a sophomore, Renda was named 2011 Pac-10 Player of the Year, making him just the fourth player in Cal history to earn the honor.
Update II: The Nats took another high-upside pitcher with their third-round pick, going with Stanford left-hander Brett Mooneyham, a fourth-year junior whose last name is fantastic.
Mooneyham was Stanford’s No. 2 starter this season, posting a 7-5 record with a 4.26 ERA over 14 starts. He was fourth in what’s now the Pac-12 with 90 strikeouts over 82 1/3 innings, but did have 37 walks and hit 15 batters. The thought with Mooneyham is that if he can refine his control, he has a fairly high ceiling.
“(He’s) a plus athlete with a fastball that touches 97 (mph) to go along with a plus curveball and changeup,” Kline said.
In the fourth round, the Nats went with Brandon Miller, an outfielder from Samford University. Miller, the 144th overall pick, was rated the 314th best prospect in this year’s class, and might allow the Nats to free up some money to sign their top three selections.