Talking playoff positioning and Harper’s defensive improvements

You don’t have to worry about Tyler Clippard taking his recent struggles too lightly.

When manager Davey Johnson saw Clippard last night after the reliever blew a save in the Nationals’ 4-2 loss, Clippard was watching film of his outing. When Johnson saw Clippard this morning, Clippard was - you guessed it - watching film of his outing.

“Talk about a glutton for punishment,” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t be going there.”

Johnson also said that Clippard “trashed” a room in the tunnel leading from the Nationals’ dugout to their clubhouse after he came out of the game last night. He’s frustrated, and Johnson can’t blame him.

“He’s a very competitive young man,” Johnson said. “He doesn’t like to give up anything. Everybody was disappointed we didn’t get (Edwin) Jackson his 10th win. Nobody likes to have a rough outing.”

Johnson said last night that Drew Storen will get the save opportunity today if one presents itself, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him get the vast majority of the save chances the rest of the way out. But Clippard will still be vital to the Nationals’ playoff run, and Johnson will still turn to him in late-inning situations.

The Nationals’ magic number to clinch the NL East is seven after Atlanta’s loss last night, but given their up and down play over the last two weeks, they’re now just a half-game up on the Reds for the top seed in the National League. If the Nats get that No. 1 seed, they’d be guaranteed home-field advantage through the playoffs, but Johnson isn’t necessarily gunning for that at this point.

“I haven’t put much thought in that,” he said. “I just want to win every game we play. I want to win today. I’ll worry about tomorrow, tomorrow. And I’ll worry about who has the best record Oct. 3.”

Harper catching wall coors sidebar.jpgIt might have gone somewhat unnoticed after the fact last night due to Clippard’s blown save, but Bryce Harper recorded his eighth outfield assist of the season when he gunned down Ryan Braun at the plate in the fourth inning.

Harper downplayed his outfield play after the game, saying, “You just throw the ball and try to get people out,” but he clearly has made strides in the two years since he made his move to the outfield. On the play last night, Harper charged Aramis Ramirez’s single up the middle full speed, leaving him less distance to cover on his throw to the plate.

Johnson has seen improvement from Harper in the outfield this season, but he feels there’s more work to be done in one area, specifically.

“He’s getting closer to hitting the cutoff man,” Johnson said. “He isn’t doing it yet, but he’s getting closer. But all the other aspects have improved as he’s been out there, the on-the-job experience. I think he’s getting more comfortable. The only thing that I need to impress upon him (is) ... he doesn’t have to throw a strike at the base, whether it’s third base, second base. He wants to throw it all the way. Strike. He just needs to get the ball down. Even (hit) the cutoff man when he’s getting the ball to second. But he’ll get there.”

When Harper first started playing in the outfield, the Nationals (especially third base coach Bo Porter, who works with the outfielders) were concerned that Harper’s choppy style of running would wear him down and possibly lead to injury. Harper used to take quick, short steps when chasing after balls, but lately, Johnson has seen Harper glide more in the outfield, taking longer strides, which the Nationals feel will help keep his body fresh over the course of a season.

When Porter was with the Marlins, he coached Giancarlo Stanton, who started out as a center fielder. Like Harper, Stanton was a “choppy, maximum-effort runner,” as Johnson called him, and it wore on his body. The Marlins eventually slid Stanton over to right field to lessen the load on him physically.

“He broke down,” Johnson said. “So they moved him to right. That’s what Bo Porter was really concerned about - wearing (Harper) down, maybe having a leg injury. But he’s not as concerned now.”

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