After slow start, Clippard right back on track

It ain't easy being a late-inning reliever.

Say you're Tyler Clippard. You blow a one-run lead in the eighth inning, everyone notices. Fans boo you, reporters are waiting for you at your locker after the game and you feel like you let your team down.

If you're Tyler Clippard and you pitch a scoreless eighth, keeping a one-run eighth-inning lead intact, not nearly as many people take notice.

That's your job, after all.

Fans likely don't give you a standing ovation as you come off the mound, reporters more than likely aren't waiting for you at your locker to discuss your successful inning and you're probably not pumped up publicly as the reason for the victory.

So after Clippard's early-season struggles were noted here on the blog, let's take some time to also take note of his recent dominance.

After allowing four unearned runs and blowing a one-run lead in an April 21 loss to the Angels, Clippard had a 3.72 ERA and a 1.449 WHIP on the season. Opponents had a .798 OPS against him. His location wasn't great, and the right-hander openly wondered if he was tipping his pitches.

Since then, however, Clippard has been exceptional.

In his last nine appearances, spanning 7 2/3 innings, Clippard has not been scored upon. He has a 0.914 WHIP, and opponents have a .361 OPS against him.

His ERA on the season now stands at 2.08, and his strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate of 12.98 is tops on the team.

Clippard has ended up picking up each of the Nats' last two wins, and while pitchers' wins don't indicate much (especially among relievers), that does indicate that Clippard has kept close games close and allowed the Nationals bats to take care of business in the late innings.

Clippard has experienced early-season struggles in each of the last two seasons.

In 2013, he had a 4.35 ERA through the season's first month. In 2012, Clippard had a 6.00 ERA through his first nine appearances.

He ended up being just fine from there on out.

Late-inning relievers know what they're getting themselves into. They know that they often only get noticed if they mess up, much like a long snapper or kicker in football. They know that they'll have to answer far more negative questions from reporters after subpar outings than positive questions after strong outings.

Still, it's worth noting how good Clippard has been lately, and how important he's been to the Nationals in recent weeks.

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