Clippard starting rehab, Thompson improving, Strange-Gordon released

PHILADELPHIA – As the Nationals get ready for the second game of this four-game set against the Phillies, manager Davey Martinez provided some updates down on the farm at Triple-A Rochester.

Tyler Clippard begins his rehab assignment tonight with the Red Wings. The 37-year-old reliever was placed on the 15-day injured list on July 22 (retroactive to July 19) with a groin strain.

“He's gonna go and get ready, pitch down some games,” Martinez said of Clippard. “The biggest thing for me is, as we always talk about, is back-to-back days. We want him to be able to pitch two innings like he did when he came up here. So we got to see him do that. I know we're kind of in a different position, but you never know when it comes to the bullpen help. We always want to keep guys and if he's pitching well.”

The right-hander only pitched in one game with the Nationals after finally getting the call from Rochester. He pitched two scoreless innings against the Braves on July 14, his first appearances as a National since 2014. Clippard made 33 appearances with the Red Wings this year, going 4-1 with a 2.48 ERA and 1.211 WHIP.

Once healthy, Martinez envisions Clippard helping out at the major league level again.

“I look at him as a guy that, you know, right now we don't have any left-handed relievers,” Martinez said. “He's a guy that has had good success against left-handed batters. So we'll see what happens. Our bullpen right now has been pitching really well. But at what point, because they're pitching it a lot, do we need to make a change or we'll see what happens. I only had him here for a couple of days, but I've known him for a long, long time. And he competes, right? So he's good.”

Over his 12-year career, Clippard indeed has reverse splits: He has held left-handed batters to a .190/.267/.326 with .593 OPS slash line, while right-handers have slashed .206/.293/.382 with a .675 OPS against him.

Waiting for Clippard in the Rochester bullpen is Mason Thompson, who was optioned down on July 14 to make room for Aníbal Sánchez’s season debut. Like Clippard, Thompson is someone Martinez believes can help the Nats over these last two months.

“We believe that Mason can help us finish up,” Martinez said. “And I believe that he one day could pitch in the back end of the bullpen. So it's about consistency with him. And again, getting him repetition on going back-to-back days. Up here we did that with him and he always struggles that second day. So we're trying to get them accustomed to going back-to-back days. Maybe going up and down once, four outs, five five, things of that nature. 

“But we believe in him. Look, last year was really the first time he's ever pitched out of the bullpen. So it was new to him. So we got to be careful, especially with some of the arm problems that he has had. And we're just really trying to be careful with him and getting used to pitching out of the bullpen.”

Thompson was effective over his seven scoreless outings with the Nationals this season. But he didn’t pitch in high-leverage situations, with all of his appearances coming when his team was trailing. He only gave up one hit and two walks while striking out four over six innings.

Was it surprising that he didn’t get a lot of swings and misses even though he was effective?

“Very surprising,” Martinez said. “A lot for me is working ahead with him. Working ahead with him and actually throwing his secondary pitches more. You know, he basically threw fastballs, fastballs, fastballs. And like I said, if you're a guy that's just constantly throwing the fastball and don't want to use your secondary pitches, team's are gonna catch up to that. So we are trying to get him down there. I mean, he's got a good slider. And he showed that a little bit here when he was here for his stay. But he's also got to really changeup that he doesn't use as much. So once again, we're talking about a young kid that we're trying to help him develop a changeup as well.”

In eight appearances with Rochester, Thompson five runs (two earned), eight hits and three walks while striking out 14 over 11 ⅓ innings.

Meanwhile, Dee Strange-Gordon will be leaving Rochester after the Nationals and Red Wings granted him his release this afternoon. Strange-Gordon was released by the Nats on June 19 and then re-signed a minor league deal on July 16. When the Nats traded Ehire Adrianza to the Braves on Monday, they selected Ildemaro Vargas to fill the utility role over Strange-Gordon. (Though Gordon had only just played his first game back at Triple-A.)

“He felt like he wanted to go somewhere else, honestly,” Martinez said. “It was his decision that he made. So we gave him the leeway to go look for another job if he wants.”

Strange-Gordon hit .305 (18-for-59) with a double, triple, two RBIs and three stolen bases in 22 games with the Nationals this season.

* Elsewhere on the farm, C.J. Abrams is playing shortstop and batting leadoff in his Rochester debut tonight.

James Wood has joined low Single-A Fredericksburg. He’s the Nats’ new No. 4 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, and will bat third while playing center field.

Robert Hassell III had a groundout and a popout in his first two at-bats with high Single-A Wilmington last night before the game was suspended due to rain. He’s the Nats’ new No. 1 prospect, per MLB Pipeline.

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