There was a lot of debate in 2014 about who should assume the closer role for the Nationals.
Rafael Soriano was brought in to shut the door in the ninth before 2012, but seven blown saves and myriad other close calls in 2014 left fans with little confidence, and even fewer fingernails, as the final three outs seemed to constantly be a struggle to obtain.
Drew Storen assumed the role, too, racking up 11 saves, including 10 consecutive saves during the team’s September stretch run. Still, as the Nats head into 2015, the closer role is one of several positions waiting to be set in stone. Storen remains a candidate, of course. So does teammate Tyler Clippard.
“Yeah, I mean I’ve said that from Day One,” Clippard said of being the closer. “I think the day after I became a reliever, I wanted to close. That’s always been a goal of mine and I got a chance to do that in 2012, but I realize the importance of having a collective group. It can’t just be one guy in the ninth (inning) that’s going to make a good team or a good bullpen.”
Fans can remember back to Clippard’s 2012 campaign where he tallied 32 saves and helped the Nationals reach the postseason for the first time since moving to Washington. During that season, then-Nats closer Henry Rodriguez struggled, opening the door for Clippard to swoop in and claim the position. He did well, earning a trip to the All-Star Game and posting a 3.74 ERA.
But for the past two years, Clippard has served as a setup man for both Storen and Soriano.
“It’s all perspective,” Clippard said. “Obviously I feel like I can pitch at any time, first through ninth (innings) and that’s the perspective I have. Whatever they want me to do, I feel confident in doing it well.”
It’s one of several position battles that will unfold in the coming months. Neither Storen nor Clippard are guaranteed the job and both guys know it. It only takes an off week for fans to begin clamoring for change at the closer position, a burden that comes with one of the sport’s most pressure-filled roles.
“This organization, for me, has been the team I’ve been with in the big leagues. The only team,” Clippard said. “I spent two months with the Yankees, but that was in a very small body of work. The curly ‘W’ is the uniform I’ve always worn and these guys are my family. The organization, I’ve seen it come from nothing to 100-loss seasons to winning two division championships and a lot of the same guys in the locker room doing it. These guys are the guys who I want to go to battle with.”