LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — One of the most heavily-used relievers in the major leagues the past three years, Tyler Clippard came into spring training and planned with the Nationals’ coaching staff to take things slow and prepare to go full-blast on April 1.
Easing the right-hander into the spring meant that the sixth inning Friday night, in the Nationals’ seventh game of the Grapefruit League slate, was the scene for his 2013 debut. Clippard faced the bottom of the Atlanta Braves’ lineup and needed nine pitches to dispatch Juan Francisco, Christian Bethancourt and Ramiro Pena.
“Everything looked pretty normal, which is good, it’s a good sign,” Clippard said when his work was done. “I feel good out there. Seemed like my velo was good. Took a peek a couple times. That’s all you’re looking for in a spring training outing this early.”
Clippard’s fastball was in the 92-94 mph range and he threw a handful of curveballs, as well as his signature changeup. Clippard struck out Bethancourt on the changeup.
“I thought (Clippard) was great,” said manager Davey Johnson. “He threw a couple curveballs that weren’t up around mask high, so that’s a work in progress and I’m sure he’ll be working on that. I think that’d be another weapon for him.”
Clippard doesn’t have any plans to “do anything drastically different this spring,” so Friday night was a good first step toward building up for the season. As a short reliever, there’s not much he needs to do in the way of building arm strength, but Clippard will likely pitch on back-to-back days a few times before the spring ends to get his body acclimated to doing it during the season.
“It’s kind of the same stuff every spring,” Clippard said. “My fastball and changeup are pitches for me that are usually there. Probably could pick up a baseball in December and could throw those pretty effectively. It’s just the breaking pitches are the ones that you have to get a feel for, because those are feel pitches. Every spring, always working on that. So more of the same this year.”
– When the Nationals made wholesale substitutions on Friday night, Anthony Rendon popped out of the dugout and took over for Danny Espinosa at shortstop. Rendon played third base exclusively in 2012 in the minor leagues but he bounced around a little last spring and the Nationals plan to use test him in various places this spring as well.
One position that has come often for Rendon is second base, but Johnson said Friday night he still would like to work more on footwork there before he moves him. Rendon’s talents make it clear he’s close to being ready for the big leagues — though Johnson reiterated on Friday that he could not play his way into a role on the Opening Day roster because he needs reps in the minors — but there is no position for him to step up at seize at this point. So the Nationals are working with him to become more versatile.
“I like him on the left side of the infield,” Johnson said. “There’s kind of a logjam at third. A bunch of guys can play third. He’s such a talented individual. I’ll put him at short and third, he’s comfortable there. He’s got to do a little more footwork drills for me (before he plays second) but he has a real good aptitude.
“He has good footwork but it’s something that I want him to be more comfortable with before he goes over there. And really, once you get the footwork down, you hate to put him over there and then move him back to the other side. I want him basically over there until they’re sure of where they’ll need him down the line.”
– Carlos Rivero hit a bases-clearing double to put the Nationals ahead on Friday night and Will Rhymes made a terrific stop behind the second base bag to save them from losing that lead in the ninth inning. Rivero and Rhymes are both longshots to make the team, but while Rhymes is a non-roster minor league invitee who could serve as depth, Rivero is out of options and would likely be lost on waivers if the Nationals tried to sneak him through to the minors.
If he plays well this spring, though, he may open up some options for the team via a trade, as Johnson pointed out a few weeks ago.
– Bryce Harper hit his first home run of the spring Friday night, a first-inning shot to the berm in left field at the Braves’ complex off Julio Teheran, who will likely be the Braves No. 5 starter this spring. Harper is now 7-for-13 this spring with two doubles and a home run.