VIERA, Fla. - Earlier in his career, when Tyler Clippard was a starter in the Yankees' system, he complemented his fastball and change-up with a curveball, a pitch that he was able to throw consistently because he'd obviously work multiple innings at a time.
Clippard made the switch to a long reliever a few years ago, and now that he's in his current role as a one-inning, late-game reliever, the curveball has gotten left behind.
Last year, Clippard threw his curve just 2.2 percent of the time, leaning almost entirely on his fastball and his change. But this spring, Clippard has been working more with the curve in an effort to get a better feel for the pitch. Today, he threw a handful of curves in his inning of work against the Astros, and got good results.
"This is the time to work on some stuff, and my breaking pitches are something I need to work on religiously to have those during the season. So this is a good time to do it," Clippard said. "It's always been a weapon for me, but it's a matter of me putting it where I want to. It's always been a good pitch my whole career, so I'm just trying to get a feel for it right now."
While it's nice to have a wide variety of pitches to rely on, relievers tend to stick mostly to the idea that they'd rather get beat on their best pitch than mix things up and end up serving up a homer on their third-best pitch. In one-inning stints, it's more about overpowering hitters with speed or stuff rather than trying to throw a number of different pitches to keep hitters honest.
That's why since he's moved into the eighth- and ninth-inning roles, Clippard has been hesitant to throw his curve much. But he also knows that if he can build up some confidence in his curve, it could be a nice change of pace.
"Yeah, it opens up all my other stuff," Clippard said. "If I can throw that pitch for a strike and have that in their heads that I can throw that in any count, it's just something else for them to think about. It's not that I haven't had it in the past. I've had a curveball my whole career, it's just a matter of throwing it more."
Clippard's been throwing the curve a decent amount this spring, and as a result, he's starting to get a good feel for it. Manager Davey Johnson estimated that three of the four curveballs Clippard threw today were over the plate.
"When I'm throwing it more, I have more confidence in it," Clippard said. "There's times in the season where the situations or whatever the case may be might dictate me not using it for three or four outings And therefore you lose feel for it. You only have one inning to work, so I really want to kind of implement that right now so when I hit the season, I'll have that in my repertoire."
Meanwhile, Ryan Zimmerman went 1-for-3 with a single and a pair of strikeouts as the Nationals' DH today, but he also threw across the diamond during pregame warm-ups, marking the first time he's made throws over to first base.
"Everything went good," said Zimmerman, who is coming off offseason shoulder surgery. "Got about another week or so of that to kind of build the strength up, and we'll go from there."
Zimemrman has stretched his arm out pretty good to this point, but he'll need to continue to build up strength before he's allowed to play third base during a spring game. He feels just fine while swinging, but admits the shoulder is still responding to the throwing program.
"It's still a little weak," Zimmerman said. "But I mean, there's no pain. It's just a matter of going through the throwing program and getting stronger and not get tired while doing normal infield stuff. You've got to be able to go through one of those without getting tired before getting into a game. But it feels good.
"I'm in no rush to get in (a game at third). It's great to be able to DH and hang out and be a part of the game. But once I'm ready, we'll have plenty of time. But it's nice to know that things are progressing well and that things seem to be getting better each day."