Clippard keeps clicking, racking up saves at near-record rate

Tyler Clippard had one career save entering this season.

He had one career save on May 20, six weeks into the Nationals’ 2012 season.

Clippard now possesses 31 career saves. And he’s showing no signs of slowing down.

The 27-year-old righty reached the 30-save mark for the 2012 campaign in yesterday’s win over the Cubs. Given how badly Clippard wanted the opportunity to close games in the past and given how important these saves have been with the Nationals making a push towards the postseason, he admits he’s relishing the role he’s in and the success he’s had.

“Yeah, man. It’s a nice feather on the cap,” Clippard said. “I think more importantly, it’s been fun to contribute to a lot of the wins we’ve had this year. That’s the most fun part for me.”

Clippard Celebrates Save wide.jpgSince taking over the closer’s role on May 22, Clippard has 30 saves in a 92-game span. If you project those numbers over a 162-game season, the Nationals’ righty would finish with 52 saves, which would tie him with Eric Gagne (2002) for the eighth-most saves in a single season in major league history.

Clippard also has become the third closer in Nationals’ history to record 30 saves in a season, joining Chad Cordero and Drew Storen.

Davey Johnson keeps calling on him, and Clippard keeps getting the job done. He’s blown just four saves this season, only three of which came since he moved into the closer’s role.

“He’s been a big part of this team (in past years) as far as kind of being the closer in the eighth inning,” Ryan Zimmerman said. “Obviously nothing compares to getting the last three outs. It’s the hardest thing to do in this sport. But (Clippard and Storen), the stuff that they have, the makeups that they have, both of those guys are as good as they come for the eighth and ninth inning.”

Storen, who saved 43 games last season, has really been coming back to form lately after elbow surgery wiped out the first half of his season. His velocity is up (Storen’s fastball registered as high as 96.8 mph yesterday, according to PitchFX), his sinker might even have better movement than it did before the surgery and his slider has become an effective option, as well.

Their roles have shifted, with Storen now the set-up man and Clippard closing games out, but the dominating 1-2 punch in the late innings remains.

“(Clippard’s) doing great,” Adam LaRoche said. “For not doing it and getting thrown (into) the spot he was with an injury, to step up and run with it, he’s doing great. On top of it, Drew’s getting back. I’m looking back and he’s throwing 95, 96, so he’s getting back and able to help out late in games, too. So it’s a pretty lethal combination.”

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