PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — With each early appearance he made this spring, Tyler Clippard was reaffirming the Nationals’ faith and trust in him as a reliever. A candidate for the team’s up-for-grabs ninth inning role, Clippard had posted three scoreless outings in four apperances before this week.
On Wendesday, though, he was the victim of a five-run, four-hit ninth inning against Houston and on Saturday, Clippard entered the Nationals’ 7-4 loss to the Mets in a two-out, two-on situation in relief of starting pitcher Jason Marquis.
He welcomed himself to the game by walking Jason Bay — a result that came after an impressive 2-2 changeup was called inside — and then served up a three-run triple to the next batter, Scott Hairston. He got a strikeout to end the inning one batter later, and two of the three runs were charged to Marquis, but Clippard’s spring ERA ballooned to 15.19 with the outing.
Clippard, a pitcher who manager Jim Riggleman feels is more effective the more often he is used, will likely be given ample opportunity to bring that number down in the spring’s final nine games.
“I’m a guy that needs some reps,” Clippard said. “I feel real close. I feel good physically, the ball is coming out good, I’m just not executing on the pitches when I need to right now. I feel confident with the process. I’m just frustrated right now that I’m not making the pitches when I need to.”
Riggleman met with Clippard Saturday morning to assure the right-hander that his confidence in him has not wavered, but where Wednesday there was an accumulation of things that left the reliever perplexed and searching, Saturday’s struggles were mostly contained to two pitches: the ball four he threw to Bay and the one Hairston took for the triple.
With few bullpen candidates stepping up and seizing opportunity, along with Riggleman’s assurances, Clippard will be given time to get back a comfort he feels is missing on the mound.
“I’m thankful that he is a manager that will go out of his way to do that,” Clippard said of the meeting between the two on Saturday. “It says a lot of about the kind of manager that he is. I appreciate that. It’s a confidence builder for me, I’ve just got to hold up my end of the bargain… and I’m going to. When the season rolls around, I’ll be ready to go.”