In an interview Dave Nichols from the Nats News Network conducted recently with former Nats' Skipper Manny Acta, the current Nats' Manager Jim Riggleman's predecessor lamented the fact that injuries and trades had robbed the Nationals of what he had seen as one of their strongest assets:
Manny Acta: "Pitching sets the tone and we just had a tough time replacing Chad Cordero and Jon Rauch. Once they were gone our bullpen was vulnerable, and I felt that that was our strength when I first arrived."
DC GM Mike Rizzo obviously agreed with the Nats' former Manager, since he addressed that need last winter by acquiring former Pirates' closer Matt Capps to work the late innings along with right-hander Tyler Clippard, who had established himself as a part of the Nats' bullpen after a late June call-up in 2009. The 25-year-old Clippard, a former Yankees' draft pick, acquired in a December '07 trade that sent RHP Jonathan Alabadejo to New York, began his major league career as a starter in the Yanks' system, making his MLB debut in May 2007, but that winter Clippard was sent to Washington, and he struggled, going (6-13) with a 4.66 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 6.13 FIP and 4.15 BB/9 over 143.0 IP with the Nats' Triple-A affiliate, which was then in Columbus, OH. Converted to a relief role, Clippard was called up to DC in 2009 after going (4-1) with a 0.92 ERA in 24 games at Triple-A in '09 in which he K'd 9.69 K/9.
Upon his arrival in DC, Clippard told MLB.com's Bill Ladson, in an article entitled, "Clippard earns promotion at Wells' expense", that he'd embraced his new role as a reliever:
"'Coming into a relief role this year, it has helped me forget about everything mechanically...I'm just going out there and firing the ball and eliminating those bad thoughts. It just kind of turned into a good thing for me. Everything is kind of falling into place so far."
In 42 games in the second-half of 2009, Clippard was (1-2) with a 2.53 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 10.1 K/9 in 36 games and 53.1 IP over which he held left-handed hitters to a .122 BAA, .149 BABIP, .217 OBP and a .226 slugging percentage. Clippard's off to a good start again this season, posting an (8-3) record with a 1.65 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 10.7 K/9 so far, and along with Capps, the 25-year-old reliever's become part of a phenomenon which started in one of MASNSports.com's Ben Goessling's in-game chats, when reader Steve Repsher, a one-time colleague of Mr. Goessling's at the Washington Times, dubbed the duo "Clipp and Save". As Mr. Goessling wrote in an June 3, 2010 article entitled, "'Clip and Save' goes mainstream', the nickname stuck, and now the first 10,000 fans to arrive at Nationals Park for Tuesday's (6/22/10) game against the Kansas City Royals will receive their very own "Clipp and Save" t-shirt as part of the Nats' "T-Shirt Tuesday" promotional giveaway.
In anticipation of Clippard and Capps big day, I interviewed both the closer and the late-inning reliever about their time in the nation's capital and what they thought about the way in which the DC Faithful have embraced the two of them. What follows is the interview with Mr. Clippard, the Capps interview will go up later today...
Federal Baseball (FB): You've made the transition from starter to reliever successfully, with as many as three starters due to come off the DL in the next few weeks/months, what advice would you offer to any current starters who might be asked to work out of the bullpen?
Tyler Clippard: "It's still pitching, you know, so for me that was the biggest thing that helped me in the transition, was keeping my same philosophy. I think to do it one time through the order, when you're only facing a guy one time, you can come at him with all your stuff and I think that is conducive to being more successful in the sense that you don't have to face him more times through the lineup and they get a feel for what you're trying to do, so I think in that sense it's more beneficial to kind of go after everybody with all your pitches, and a starter [who] has four pitches and they go to the bullpen can use all those pitches to their advantage.
FB: How much of your success do you think is due to deception, with the high lead arm and the way you keep the ball behind you through most of your delivery before releasing it?
Tyler Clippard: "I'm not sure. I'm not really a hitter, so I couldn't really tell you how much it helps or doesn't help. I know, obviously, there is some deception there, which is good, but that's kinda just how I throw, so I'm lucky enough to kind of have that in my repertoire, I guess, but I don't really know if it's that or the [fact] that I have a good changeup or what it is, but I think it helps a little bit for sure..."
FB: Any difference is the way [Ivan Rodriguez] is calling your pitches, and what's it like working with a future Hall of Fame catcher?
Tyler Clippard: "It's good. It's easy. It's easy to work with a guy like that, because he knows what's going on in the game, he's been around, he knows a lot of the hitters in this league, and so it's really helpful to kinda trust him if there's any questions out there during the game. As far as pitch selection, one way or the other you can kind of feel good about the decisions that he's making and he works well with everybody, I think that's a big key too. So, it's been awesome, it's kinda surreal in the sense that you don't really realize all the things that he's accomplished in this game, because baseball's such a year to year sport and you're in the moment so much you don't really have time to step back and reflect, but it's been awesome to have him around and he's obviously done a lot for the game and for us too."
FB: You debuted with the Yankees as a 22-year-old, the same age as Drew Storen is now, how would you compare yourself then to him now, in terms of how prepared he is for the majors and his skill?
Tyler Clippard: "I think he's a lot more advanced than I was in the sense that his stuff is a lot better than what I was featuring at 22, but I think everybody's situation is different, I was a starter when I was 22, I was in the Yankees' organization at the time, so you know everybody's situation is a little different, the feel is different, but [Storen's] got a good head on his shoulders, and he knows what he's capable of doing and the things that he's featuring so, he's got a lot of confidence out there, and I think that's what we have going for us, is the confidence level and he'll just continue to grow and continue to get better, which is great to see cause he's already pretty good."
FB: Is there a story behind your entrance music and what's it like to be embraced by the DC fanbase?
Tyler Clippard: "It's awesome, man. The fans here in Washington have been great so far ever since I stepped foot in this organization, and being in the big leagues here, even last year when we were losing a bunch the fans were still great to us as players and stuff, and the whole "Peaches" situation more or less started as a joke in Triple-A and then it's kinda this growing monster in the sense that I've been pitching really well with this walk-out song, so I have to keep it..."