- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2014

Plenty of Major League Baseball clubs could have had Mike Trout.

The Los Angeles Angels’ star outfielder, a future Most Valuable Player, was sitting on the draft board in 2009 just waiting for someone to pick him. The Nationals had two chances that June, selecting ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg with the No. 1 pick – hard to blame them for that - and Stanford reliever Drew Storen at No. 10.

Even Trout admitted before Monday’s game at Nationals Park that Washington wasn’t very high on him at the time. Instead, the Angels finally grabbed Trout at No. 25 and within three years he had produced one of the greatest seasons ever by a player 20 or younger.

“I don’t know,” Trout, a New Jersey native, said before Monday’s game, his first against the Nats. “A lot of teams shied away from me, East Coast kid. But I’m just happy the Angels picked me and gave me an opportunity.”

The hype before the game centered on Trout and Washington outfielder Bryce Harper, the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft. The two men have been compared to each other since both were in the minor leagues. But in the seventh inning of Monday’s 4-2 Los Angeles win, it was Storen and Trout who briefly took center stage.

Storen fired four sliders and a pair of fastballs at Trout, who finally lined out to center field with two down and a runner at first. That kept the Nats in front 1-0 - for a time.

In the end, however, none of those three players had a role in the winning runs. It remains a team sport, after all. Instead, it was an old foe that has long tormented Washington.

Raul Ibanez, who once routinely embarrassed the Nats as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies, doubled home three runs in the top of the eighth inning off reliever Tyler Clippard. He entered the day with a career batting average of .301 against the Washington/Montreal franchise with a .934 OPS.

That Ibanez hit continued a disturbing trend for Clippard to start 2014. A mainstay in Washington’s bullpen since 2009, Clippard (1-2, 3.72 ERA) has struggled early. He gave up a home run on opening day in New York on March 31. He’s blown two saves, including one Monday, and been tagged with two losses.

A pitcher who relies on his change-up to generate swings and misses, Clippard is at a loss as to why that pitch has deserted him. He got Los Angeles slugger Albert Pujols to roll over a swing and hit an easy grounder to shortstop only to see Ian Desmond boot the ball. Then Ibanez acted as if he knew it was coming, slashing a three-run double into the gap in left-center and then advancing to third on Desmond’s throwing error.

“They’re still not taking real good swings on [the change-up] ,” Clippard said. “It is a pitch I’m getting hurt on. It’s a pitch I’m getting hurt with, but it’s a pitch I throw a lot. That’s how it goes. But there’s nothing really there right now. I feel good right now, what I’m doing with all my pitches.”

Desmond didn’t feel much better afterward even with a solo homer in the ninth inning. His error started that whole rally. None of Clippard’s runs were earned. The throwing error on the Ibanez double was his ninth of the season in just 20 games.

“I didn’t help [Clippard] at all,” Desmond said. “That’s what I’m most mad about. He made a good pitch. Did his job. And I wasn’t able to help him out.”

Nats manager Matt Williams echoed Clippard’s thoughts before his reliever even spoke. He hasn’t been as bad as the results have indicated. But after Tanner Roark pitched 6 2/3 shutout innings, after Storen got Trout (2-for-5) to end the seventh, that was all little consolation to Clippard as his team fell to 11-9 and 2-3 on this uneven 11-game homestand.

“This month hasn’t been very good to me, but it’s up to me to get out of it,” Clippard said. “I can sit here and make all the excuses in the world and say I’m doing this right or this wrong or whatever it is, but at the end of the day what matters is the results and the results haven’t been there so far this year for me. And nobody’s going to feel sorry for me so I just got to get out of it and do what I know how to do.”