Storen takes a step forward, Clippard questions his pitch selection

Davey Johnson said yesterday afternoon that the Nationals wanted to see Drew Storen’s command improve and his breaking ball get more consistent before the team would consider activating the reliever from his rehab assignment.

Storen was apparently listening loud and clear. He worked a 1-2-3 seventh inning for Single-A Potomac yesterday, throwing 11 pitches, 10 of which were strikes. Storen struck out two, both of which were swinging Ks on sliders.

He’s getting closer to a return.

Meanwhile, Storen’s good buddy, Tyler Clippard, has been so good this season that he’s allowed to have a blow-up like last night’s.

Or two. Or three.

“The whole first half, he didn’t do that,” said Ross Detwiler, the guy who lost out on a win last night when Clippard blew a save in the ninth inning. “So that’s amazing. If he only has one this year, he’s one of the best closers in the game.”

Clippard is now 14-for-15 in save opportunities since taking over the Nationals’ closer duties, numbers which are certainly nothing to sneeze at. But as he stood in front of his locker after the game last night, Clippard was left lamenting the three-run homer he allowed to pinch hitter Jordany Valdespin which gave the Mets a 3-2 lead in the ninth inning.

Johnson felt the issue with Clippard’s ninth inning was largely that he was too reliant on his changeup, a pitch which Valdespin crushed just over the wall in center. Clippard, who tossed 11 changeups and 15 fastballs in his 27 pitches last night, agreed with his manager’s take on the matter.

“It probably wasn’t the right pitch to throw, in my opinion,” he said. “I threw it anyway and just didn’t execute it.”

Clippard made the point that if he does execute the pitch and gets it low and away, Valdespin probably rolls over it or misses it completely. But the changeup hung over the plate, and it left the yard quickly.

The changeup is such a good pitch for Clippard and is especially effective with two strikes or when he finds himself in need of a ground ball. But while he feels like he wants to rely on the changeup to get himself out of a big spot, he also thinks he needs to do a better job of keeping hitters on their toes.

“That’s I guess a little bit of the negative of having a good (changeup),” Clippard said. “You have a tendency to go to it all the time and hitters know that, too. I feel like I have been doing a good job of mixing it up enough to get them off of that particular pitch, but at the same time, like I said, if it’s a good pitch, it’s probably a different result. I think that’s what it comes down to.”

There was a span earlier this season where Clippard allowed just one hit over 14 1/3 innings (15 appearances). That remarkable stretch couldn’t possibly keep up; we all knew that.

Over his last two outings, however, Clippard has allowed six baserunners. He loaded the bases with none out in Miami before getting out of the jam, and gave up the three-run bomb to Valdespin yesterday. But Clippard doesn’t see any connection between the two appearances and says he still likes how he feels on the mound.

“That outing (in Miami), I was all over the place, couldn’t command the zone, then I kind of just bared down and figured it out when I had to,” Clippard said. “Tonight, I felt good. I felt like I had command of my fastball and could execute some pitches, I just didn’t execute when I had to in that at-bat to Valdepsin. That’s the bad part about being a reliever. Other than the David Wright pitch (a changeup which was hit for a single), that was probably the only other pitch I didn’t execute in the outing and it cost me the save.

“It’s just nice to get the win. It would have been devastating to lose that game. We all kind of rallied there at the end. It was a huge win for us.”

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