So much for the notion that successful setup guys toil in anonymity, providing only a bullpen bridge to the closer and impressive statistics that are largely ignored.
Nationals right-hander Tyler Clippard is headed to the All-Star Game in Phoenix on July 12, chosen to the National League squad after posting a 1-0 record, 1.96 ERA, 57 strikeouts in 47 innings and an uncanny knack for wiggling out of trouble.
Clippard was informed, in front of his teammates, by general manager Mike Rizzo, just before noon prior to a meeting to discuss security arrangements for first lady Michelle Obama’s visit to Nationals Park on Tuesday.
“It was pretty shocking, pretty awesome,” Clippard said. “I didn’t really think (about it). Especially in the National League, there are starters and great closers. I knew I’d been pitching well, but usually those are the guys who get the nod as far as the All-Star Game is concerned. I knew there was maybe an outside shot, but I really didn’t take it seriously. That’s probably a good thing, not really thinking about it too much, obviously. Now that it’s here and it’s happening, it’s pretty awesome.”
While it’s his first major league All-Star nod, this isn’t the first All-Star selection for Clippard, though it figures to be more memorable than the last one. As a Yankees farmhand in 2005, he was rewarded with a selection to the advanced Single-A Florida State League All-Star Game. But the Yankees needed a starter for a potential playoff clincher at low Single-A Charleston, so Clippard skipped the festivities at the parent club’s behest only to lose in the South Atlantic League contest.
“It was kind of a weird dynamic that I was very bitter about at the time,” Clippard recalled.
Because some All-Star Game managers opt for pitching staffs stacked with ace starters and dominant closers, Clippard had barely entertained any possibility that he’d have a shot at the Midsummer Classic. But NL manager Bruce Bochy was obviously intrigued about what the failed starter-turned-reliever, acquired by the Nationals in a December 2007 trade, could add to his All-Star bullpen.
Given the fact that Clippard had never pitched in relief until the Nationals converted him in 2009, it’s ironic that a career-saving change is what it took for the 26-year-old to get noticed. In 2010, he led the Nationals in wins, posting an 11-8 record and 3.07 ERA in a team-high 78 outings.
“It’s tough to put into words because of the process that it’s taken to get to this point in my career - the hard work, all the people around me that have helped me out,” Clippard said. “It’s still early on in my career, I’ve still got a long way to go and I have a lot more goals that I want to accomplish. But this is a cool, little one to have on your hat. I’m excited.”
Had he been given the chance to choose the Nationals’ All-Star rep, Clippard would have gone outside the pitching staff.
“Mikey Morse. He’s been our best player all year long. I think, since May, he’s probably been the best hitter in the big leagues,” Clippard said. “What he has proven to himself and has proven to the league about what kind of player he is this year, even the end of last year, too, has been phenomenal.”
Clippard isn’t sure if he’ll get in the game, but if he does, expect the same kind of steely determination that the Nationals have come to expect.
“That’s what we kind of play this game to do,” he said. “I know, every night, I want to be in that situation and it wouldn’t be any different in the All-Star Game. It would be a really cool thing if it happens.”