Washington Nationals' Manager Matt Williams got a strong start out of 27-year-old right-hander Tanner Roark, who gave up seven hits and two walks in 6 2/3 scoreless innings against the Los Angeles Angels. Drew Storen came on to retire Angels' slugger Mike Trout and end the seventh with the tying run on first, but when Tyler Clippard took the mound in the eighth, things fell apart.
Albert Pujols reached on error no. 8 for Ian Desmond in 2014, then stole second on Clippard as Ian Stewart struck out for the first out of the inning. Howie Kendrick took a 1-0 change to short for an infield single in the next at bat, moving Pujols over to third and after Brennan Boesch popped out to short, Erick Aybar connected for his third hit of the game, an RBI line drive to right that tied things up at 1-1.
A walk to Angels' catcher Chris Ianetta (.190 AVG) loaded the bases with two down and Nats-killer Raul Ibanez (.301/.362/.572 line, 12 doubles, 16 HRs in 61 G, 257 PAs vs the Nats) took a 1-0 change to left for a base-clearing opposite field double that made it 4-1 Los Angeles.
As Washington Post writer James Wagner noted on Twitter, in 11 appearances this season, Clippard, 29, gave up the lead for the second time this season and he's also lost a tie three times early in 2014.
Williams was asked after the game about the error by Desmond, which was one of two the shortstop made tonight.
"The first one is a difficult error," Williams said. "He's got to range way to the middle and he's stretched out to catch that ball and if he comes up clean he's got a chance to throw him out. But..."
Desmond got to Aybar's infield single, but there was no play at first, and his attempt to catch Pujols rounding third on the play was slick, but unsuccessful. Clippard couldn't climb out of the hole and after Ibanez missed a first-pitch change, he connected on the second, going down for the 1-0 change outside and lining it to left.
"I just looked at the pitch," Williams said of the change to Ibanez. "It's a pretty darn good pitch. A changeup down off the plate away. And Raul is a good hitter, but that's a tough pitch for anybody to handle. It certainly wasn't middle of the plate, it wasn't up. He'd just swung over one, the same pitch, essentially. And he got enough of that one... so... concerned? Yeah. Clipp, for me, hasn't found the changeup yet. He's been a little inconsistent, certainly with his location on his fastball and the concerning thing there is that he had the righty vs righty matchup and walked [Chris] Iannetta."
"Didn't help him out in the infield either," Williams continued. "Pujols hit one off the end [of his bat]. There was another one hit off the end of the bat in the hole. So, concerned? You know, he's making pitches. Tonight they just happened to find a couple of holes and then the last pitch to Ibanez was a pretty good pitch. So I don't know if there's concern there, cause he's making quality pitches, I think. Tonight wasn't his night, for sure."
The Nats' first-year skipper was asked if he considered getting a left-hander up in the bullpen with Ibanez looming and Clippard struggling, but he said he didn't.
"Clipp's been the eighth inning guy here for a long time," Williams said, "and certainly the track record indicates that he's good against lefties and he's just as effective against left-handers as he is right-handers. So, I want to stay with him there. I want him to be our guy that shuts down that eighth inning. Tonight wasn't his night though... and again, I think it was a pretty quality pitch."
Though he held lefties to a .152/.243/.264 line last year and came into the game with a .182/.267/.318 line vs left-handed hitters in his career, left-handers have put up a .333/.500/.566 line against Clippard in just nine plate appearances early this season. If that trend continues, Williams might have difficult decisions ahead in the future.
For now, however, he doesn't seem to be considering any changes.
"We have our guys set in the bullpen the way we want to have them set," Williams told reporters. "I think that the fact that he just hasn't had location is worrisome on his mind, but I also want him to close down eighth innings for us."