Tyler Clippard put together his fourth-straight strong season in Washington in 2012, saving 32 games with Nationals' closer Drew Storen on the sidelines for the first half of the season following surgery to remove a bone chip/fragment from his elbow. Clippard posted a 3.72 ERA, a 3.31 FIP, walked 29 (3.59 BB/9) and K'd 84 (10.40 K/9) over 74 games and 72.2 IP in the 27-year-old's sixth major league campaign. Clippard struggled down the stretch, however, giving up 21 hits and 12 runs (all earned) in 18.1 IP in the last month-plus on the schedule. The right-handed reliever had an 8.10 ERA and a 4.59 FIP in September/October and after holding opponents to a .161/.257/.265 line from April through August, Clippard's opponents posted a .362/.381/.603 line over the final 14 games and 13.1 IP of the regular season.
Drew Storen, on the other hand, had started the season late on the 19th of July following surgery in April, and he was rediscovering the stuff that allowed him to save 43 games in his second pro season with Washington in 2011 after the Nationals drafted the Stanford Cardinal closer out college in the 1st Round of the '09 Draft eight picks after they'd selected Stephen Strasburg no.1 overall that year. After a rough outing against San Francisco on August 14th, Storen gave up just nine hits, a walk and one earned run over a stretch of 15.0 IP between August 17th and September 20th during which he had a 0.60 ERA, 15 Ks, two saves and six holds.
Clippard blew his fifth save of the year on September 21st at home against Milwaukee, giving up a leadoff bunt by Brewers' outfielder Norichika Aoki in the top of the ninth of a 2-1 game and allowing a passed ball, fly ball out which advanced Aoki from second to third and an RBI single to tie a game the visiting team eventually won 4-2. Storen had pitched the previous two nights, earning his third save of the season in the finale of a two-game set with the LA Dodgers the day before on September 20th, so Johnson turned to Clippard that night.
Before the game the manager had explained his thinking when it came to using both relievers as closers depending on the matchups each time one was needed. "Clippard's good against both [left and right handers]," the Nationals' manager said, "His high fastball and changeup [are] really effective against left hand hitters. Last year, Storen was very effective, he backdoored his slider and his ball [had] great movement, this year he hasn't been getting the left handers out as well as the right handers."
Right-handed hitters had a .209/.263/.380 line against Storen in 2011. The Nats' closer held left-handed hitters to a .198/.260/.281 line in 2011. In 2012, however, right-handed batters had a .140/.246/.140 line against Storen as of 9/21 with lefties posting a .357/.367/.429 line against him to that point in the season. Clippard, as Johnson noted, was hard on both right and left-handers to that point with righties posting a .208/.276/.367 line while left-handers hit for a .161/.261/.250 line.
Clippard's fifth blown save was a rough one though. "That one hurt," the Nationals manager Davey Johnson told reporters after the game. Edwin Jackson had given up just one run on six hits in 8.0 IP before Clippard took the mound on September 21st. "Jackson pitched a great ball game," Johnson said, "I was tempted to let him go out in the ninth, but I said, 'Pitched a great ballgame. Clippard's fresh. Let's go there."
Asked which pitcher he would turn to the next time he needed a save, the 69-year-old skipper said that in the next game on Saturday night against Milwaukee it would be Storen. "With the number of pitches [Clippard] threw tonight and I didn't want to come back with Storen three days in a row [on Friday], especially with Gio [Gonzalez] going [Saturday]. Storen will be the guy tomorrow."
Storen was the guy the next time the Nationals needed a closer on September 24th, and he and Clippard stayed in the roles they'd pitched in the previous season throughout the rest of the 2012 campaign with Clippard's final outing of the season a 23-pitch eighth in Game 5 of the NLDS with St. Louis which saw him give up a solo home run that got the Cardinals to within one run at 6-5 in a game they would eventually win 9-7...