PHOENIX, AZ - JULY 12: National League All-Star Tyler Clippard #36 of the Washington Nationals throws a pitch in the fourth inning of the 82nd MLB All-Star Game at Chase Field on July 12, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
27-year-old fifth-year pro and 2011 All-Star Tyler Clippard told MLB Network Radio hosts Jim Duquette and Mike Ferrin earlier this week that it would be weird but the Nats' would be okay until 24-year-old right-hander Drew Storen's ready to return to the bullpen. "We feel confident and we have a lot of quality arms down there and I don't think [Storen's] going to miss too much of the season," Clippard said on Monday, "Maybe the first couple weeks. So, we're more than willing to kind of pick up the slack for that period of time and hopefully he gets back as soon as possible." Storen, in his own interview as part of MLB Network Radio's 30 Teams in 30 Day Spring Training Tour said he was about to, "... start firing it up," and would, "... essentially have a mini-Spring Training before I get up there, because that way when I'm back I'm fully back and not just kind of on a pitch limit or anything." Having had an MRI on his elbow, the Nats' '09 1st Round pick said the bicep/tricep issues he's dealt with are, "... nothing serious, just one of those things you have to let it chill out."
Nats' skipper Davey Johnson told reporters this week that it wouldn't be Clippard filling in for his room and teammate while Storen's recovering, pointing to 25-year-old right-hander Henry Rodriguez and 35-year-old World Series-winning former Astros and Phillies' closer Brad Lidge as possible 9th-inning fill-ins until the Nationals' closer returns. Lidge told Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore Tuesday night, in an article entitled, "With Brad Lidge, the Nationals seem to be in good hands", that after recovering from a torn rotator cuff to return to the mound last year in Philadelphia, he finally feels like he's back to full strength.
"'I was a little tentative when I came back last year,'" Lidge tells the WaPost reporter referring to the 25 appearances and 19.1 IP late last season in Philadelphia, over which he had a 1.40 ERA, a 2.82 FIP, 13 walks (6.05 BB/9) and 23 K's (10.71 K/9). "'The way I finished off the year last year, command-wise, I feel like I’m there right now,'" Lidge said, "'If I’m throwing 90 with command of my slider, that’s good. Anything above that is gravy.'"
In talking about the veteran addition the Nationals made to their bullpen this winter when he too spoke to MLB Network Radio this week, Davey Johnson said Lidge is, "... throwing the heck out of the ball." In seven games and 7.0 Grapefruit League innings pitched, Lidge has K'd nine and allowed just four hits and two runs, one earned, but it was when he was talking about the pitcher D.C. GM Mike Rizzo acquired from the Oakland A's before last season that the Nats' skipper really got excited.
"The guy that has really been impressive and came along a lot last year is," Johnson said, "is Henry Rodriguez. He closed a couple games for me at the end of the season. I was working Storen to death and he never bailed on me, but Henry showed that he could handle it." Rodriguez, in his first full season in the majors last year, had a 3.56 ERA, a 3.24 FIP, 45 walks (6.17 BB/9) and 70 K's (9.59 K/9) in 65.2 IP, and he's given up just three hits and two walks in 8.0 scoreless innings this Spring, over which he's struck out seven batters.
Clippard, Storen (when he's ready), Rodriguez, Lidge, Sean Burnett, Tom Gorzelanny, Ross Detwiler and maybe Craig Stammen or Ryan Mattheus until Storen's back. "I thought my bullpen last year... I wouldn't have traded with anybody in baseball," Davey Johnson told the MLB Network Radio hosts, "It's strong against right or left even though I have a lot of right-handers out there." The 69-year-old skipper said he's got "great options" to turn to this season, and he's also got the best rotation that the Nationals have put together since baseball returned to the nation's capital in 2005.
Johnson's closer agrees with this assessment, as he explained in his MLB Network Radio interview. "It's unbelievable to look at the power and the talent our whole pitching staff has," Storen said, "not just the bullpen."
Now about that offense...