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Tyler Clippard, Nationals unravel in loss to Brewers
Series of ninth-inning mistakes prove costly
The young Washington Nationals reliever struggled in blowing his fifth save of the season as part of a ninth-inning implosion that ended with a 4-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers.
“I just told him to keep his head up. He’s going to be important for us just to stay strong. It’s going to be vital for him to stay strong,” Jackson said. “I told him he’s going to be a big part of our success. Just try to encourage him a little bit. But he’s a gamer. He’s all right. Might be a little mad after tonight, but tomorrow is a new day.”
Even if Clippard doesn’t get a chance to atone for his rough outing again Saturday, with manager Davey Johnson willing to split save opportunities between Clippard and Drew Storen, Jackson’s lesson should prove important. The Nationals will need Clippard between now and the end of the regular season and especially in the playoffs.
“He’ll be fine. That one just got away,” Johnson said. “One battle. He’s been pretty awfully good.”
Pretty awfully good to the tune of 32 saves and a dependable piece of a strong bullpen. Friday night, Clippard was the victim of a leadoff bunt single and, later, a passed ball, but the 27-year-old was still down on himself for letting this one get away.
“It’s never easy to deal with failure. That’s human nature,” he said. “If you’re giving up the lead in a game, it hurts, whether it’s the seventh, eighth or ninth.”
Clippard dropped to 2-6, his second loss in as many games. Over his past seven appearances, he has allowed eight earned runs in 6 1/3 innings.
On Friday, it unraveled quickly. After Norichika Aoki got on base with a bunt single and advanced on a pass ball, it took only a flyout from Rickie Weeks and a single by Ryan Braun to tie the score. Clippard took blame for Braun stealing second, and by the time the torture was over the Nationals‘ one-run lead was a two-run deficit.
“That’s kind of how those situations go. They happen fast,” Clippard said. “That’s the nature of being a closer and only getting to throw one inning and one-run leads and all that kind of stuff. One mistake can hurt, and I’ve made a couple tonight. It was compounded because of that.”
Johnson pointed to Aoki’s bunt as the key because it threw off Clippard’s ability to focus on just making the right pitches. With Clippard’s attention diverted to runners, “he didn’t make good pitches,” the manager said.
Clippard admitted he has been through tough times like this before. This time, like others, he said he has been leaving the ball up and making mistakes in bad counts. Location hasn’t caused walks (Clippard has just one in the past calendar month), but not being able to target his fastball has hurt.
Having been in these kinds of situations, though, Clippard has a recipe on how to right himself.
“You just simplify it. You just go back to the basics of what you’ve always done,” he said. “For me, just going back to my strengths and I should be fine. I’ve been getting away from that a little bit, and it’s hurting.”
If these struggles continue, Johnson could be forced to re-evaluate his plan to let Clippard and Storen share the closer’s role. For now, the Nationals won’t divert from that. Johnson chalked it up to “one time out” for Clippard.
“He’s been doing great all year. It’s just one of those things where sometimes you have rough stretches. We’ve all had them at some point or another,” Jackson said. “You just kind of have to keep your head up and stay strong. And I told him that I definitely know how he feels. …”
“You just kind of have to shake it off and have a short term memory.”
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