PHILADELPHIA — The Nationals have no closer at the current moment, manager Davey Johnson moving Henry Rodriguez out of the role Tuesday afternoon after needing Sean Burnett to bail him out Monday night for the second time in three save opportunities.
They’ll go with match-ups and who is the freshest, Johnson said, but Tyler Clippard has made it clear that he wants the job.
“I feel like they know,” Clippard said. “I expressed to them at the end of the year that I feel like I can do the job. That’s all you can do. You want to have faith in everyone down there in their roles. You just kind of leave it at that and do your job and let the cards fall where they may.”
The Nationals have been reluctant to move Clippard out of the eighth-inning set-up role as they consider him to be so valuable in that spot and he has the ability to pitch more than one inning. But the right-hander, who made his first All-Star team in 2011, clearly has the desire to close.
“I want it bad,” Clippard said. “I’ve been fighting for the opportunity for three years now. I feel like I’ve been over-stepped a few times along the way for the opportunity to get those saves, for whatever reason. I don’t really know. But they have a plan and I trust their plan. We’ve had a good year this year and we’ve been winning. You can’t really go against the grain as far that stuff is concerned. But, yeah, I would love an opportunity.”
The Nationals relievers are a tight-knit unit, Clippard and closer Drew Storen particularly so. If Storen were healthy, though, there’s a good chance this conversation is never had. But that doesn’t mean the two haven’t had it before. Asked if his desire to close, or his feeling that he’s been passed over, could cause friction between the two, Clippard didn’t flinch.
“He knows,” Clippard said. “I talk to him about it all the time. It’s not a secret. I said this before. If you’re a bullpen guy in the big leagues, in my opinion, you want to be a closer. That’s the premier job as a bullpen guy. If you’re not going to be a starter, you might as well want to do that. There’s no secret. It’s the kind of natural progression of anybody’s career.
“You want to be the best at what you do. In my opinion, the guys who are the best at what they do in the bullpen usually get closers jobs. That’s what you want to do.”
Before Tuesday’s game, Johnson hadn’t spoken to Clippard about closing, now that the team had opted not to go with Rodriguez.
“I’m just doing my thing,” Clippard said. “I’ve always been a guy who goes about my business relatively quietly. I don’t like to ruffle any feathers or create too much stir in the clubhouse. I just want to put the uniform on, go out there, do my job and let the guys who make those decisions make those decisions.”
“I’d kind of like to keep him where I’ve got him,” Johnson said. “But he’s pitched the ninth inning in ballgames for me. I’m not necessarily eliminating anybody.”
– The Nationals bullpen did get a new addition on Tuesday with right-hander Chien-Ming Wang activated to take the spot of Ryan Mattheus (plantar fasciitis) on the roster. It is Wang’s throw day so the Nationals plan to warm him up during the game and time how long it takes him to get loose. Wang, who has undergone significant shoulder surgery, usually requires a long time before his starts to get loose.
Wang said he could pitch today.
“I’m just glad the team still gives me this opportunity,” Wang said through translator John Hsu. “I’m going to try to get the job done and try to help the team win the game. I’m really happy I can be with all my teammates here. I think my arm is good and feels good. I think I’m OK. I’m ready to do this.”
Johnson said he will treat Wang similarly to how he handled Ross Detwiler in 2011, as a young starter in the bullpen. He will keep him on a starter’s schedule and, most likely, will not use him in a game until Friday. Wang’s next start would have been Thursday.