Over the last four years, few late-inning relievers have been as consistently impressive as Tyler Clippard.
Since the start of the 2011 season, Clippard has posted a 2.64 ERA and a 0.964 WHIP, struck out 10.3 batters per nine innings and allowed just a touch over a home run per nine.
Right now, however, Clippard’s going through a tough stretch.
He’s allowed at least one run in five of his 11 appearances this season, has a 1.45 WHIP and for whatever reason has struggled to post the clean, dominant innings that we’re used to seeing from the 29-year-old right-hander.
After the Nationals’ 4-2 loss to the Angels last night, in which Clippard surrendered four unearned runs on three hits and a walk, he even suggested that he might be tipping his pitches, something that is tough for many pitchers to admit or discuss.
Clippard started wondering if he was giving something away to hitters, letting them know what was coming, after Raul Ibanez - a fastball hitter - stayed back on a tough 0-1 changeup and ripped the ball 360 feet into left-center for a bases-clearing, go-ahead double in the eighth inning last night.
The pitch was down and away, in a good spot. But Ibanez was right on it.
“It’s just something when a guy takes a swing like that on a pitch that you think is a good pitch - I looked at the video, it was a pretty good pitch - and he put a really good swing on it,” Clippard said. “It just makes you wonder. But at the end of the day, these guys get paid, too.”
Clippard didn’t really catch many breaks last night. Albert Pujols reached to begin the inning on Ian Desmond’s eighth error of the season, and a Howie Kendrick infield single to shortstop brought the tying run to the plate.
When you’re not going well, you don’t seem to get many breaks, although Clippard isn’t going to sit there and whine about it.
“That’s kind of what it seems like,” Clippard said. “Things just have snowballed on me a little bit here. I’ve (been) going through a rough patch. This month hasn’t been very good to me. But it’s up to me to get out of it. I can sit here and make all the excuses in the world and say I’m doing this right or this wrong or whatever it is, but at the end of the day what matters is the results and the results haven’t been there so far this year for me.
“And nobody’s going to feel sorry for me, so I just got to get out of it and do what I know how to do.”
For now, manager Matt Williams says he’s staying with Clippard as his eighth-inning guy, largely because of Clippard’s track record. Drew Storen has gotten off to a great start to the season, but Williams likes the idea of keeping Storen in the seventh and Clippard in the eighth.
“We have our guys set in the bullpen the way we want to have them set,” Williams said. “I think that the fact that he just hasn’t had location is worrisome on his mind, but I also want him to close down eighth innings for us.”