SAN DIEGO - Last night, as they do on many nights, the Nationals gave Tyler Clippard the ball in a close game and asked him to carry them through one of the toughest parts of the game. Clippard entered in the seventh inning against the Padres with the Nationals up 2-1 and threw only 23 pitches in two innings, striking out three and walking one. He got the ball to Drew Storen with the lead intact, and the Nationals won.
But after many of the games where the Nationals ask Clippard to work like that, there's a price to be paid. Clippard has been asked to get five or more outs in 12 of his 28 appearances. Only once has he come back to pitch the next night. For the Nationals, asking Clippard for so much work increasingly means they're sacrificing the next day or two to have him get them out of a jam that night. He's been outstanding at it; he's got a 1.91 ERA and 15 holds. Manager Jim Riggleman said last night, though, that the pace won't work.
"That's a great thing, but it's also a problem," Riggleman said. "We do not want to be in a situation where Clip is always asked to go two innings. He's had two days off, and that two innings is not a strain on him. But it's what you do the next two days with him. Somebody's got to step up and say, 'I can take that seventh inning,' and let Clip take the eighth and Storen the ninth, or however it shakes out. We've dabbled around with that, and we get teased a little bit - somebody looks like they're ready to do it, and they take a step backwards."
Sean Burnett's struggles have hurt the Nationals in the late innings especially, and Henry Rodriguez, whom Riggleman was trying to put into the eighth-inning role two weeks ago in Milwaukee, has blown leads the last two times he's pitched with them.
So while the Nationals continue to wait for another late inning option, Clippard continues to work overtime. And the former starting pitcher said last night he's fine with it.
"It's something I've been asked to do, and I've done it," Clippard said. "It's a role I've kind of had since I've gotten to the big leagues with the Nationals. I've thrown more than one inning a lot of the time. But it's just kind of circumstantial. That's my role, and I'm happy with it."