Tyler Clippard gave up four runs on five hits in ⅔ of an inning pitched against the Houston Astros last Tuesday night, breaking a streak of 25 straight appearances and 22 IP in which he hadn't allowed an earned run.
In one outing during that scoreless inning streak, which stretched back to an April 11th outing against Atlanta, the 29-year-old right-hander was knocked around by the LA Angels, who scored four unearned runs on three hits in ⅔ of an inning of work in which they seemed to know when his changeup, in particular, was coming.
Matt Williams said he actually went to the video to see if it was the case.
"I've looked at it," he said. "I looked at it every angle. I looked at, certainly, the pitches that he's thrown. I would say no. I would say I don't think he's tipping pitches. I think he's missing location and that's getting him in trouble. Especially with his fastball. But I don't think he's giving it away."
If any team was reading Clippard, it was likely Atlanta.
In the last outing in which he surrendered an earned run before last Tuesday's game, hard-hitting outfielder Justin Upton hit a game-tying eighth inning home run off the Nats' set-up man in that April series. The home run gave the Braves' hitters 11 hits, nine runs, all earned, four home runs and seven walks in 8 ⅓ IP by Clippard in 2013-14.
Clippard threw a scoreless inning of work against the Braves on Friday night, however, in his first outing against the Nats' NL East rivals since the second week of the season and Williams went back to him in the eighth inning this afternoon in spite of the matchups.
"Clipp has some history with these guys," Williams said. "There's some decent numbers there. Especially for the guys that he was going to face."
Freddie Freeman was 5 for 13 vs Clippard, with a double and a home run. Evan Gattis was 1 for 2, with a home run. Jason Heyward was 5 for 9 with three walks. Clippard set them down in an 11-pitch, 1-2-3 frame.
"He did a nice job of mixing in the curveball today," Williams told reporters after the Nationals' 3-0 win.
"Certainly fastball where he wanted it and got through that inning relatively easy which is encouraging for him."
Williams was asked if Clippard's success in the last two outings against the Braves allayed any fears about him tipping his pitches?
"I don't buy too much into that," he said. "I think that if he throws the ball where he wants to throw it he's got a chance to get them out. They're really good hitters though and they've seen him a lot so you understand what the changeup looks like out of his hand, or what the fastball looks like and the split. The more you face a guy, not the easier it becomes, but the more comfortable you become at the plate. I don't think he's tipping anything."
"The ability to throw it for a strike is key for him," Williams stressed, "regardless of whether it's the Braves or anybody else."