Matt Williams has done a lot of talking about the Washington Nationals' bullpen in the last few days.
After Tyler Clippard blew a lead against the LA Angels in the eighth inning Monday night, giving up the game-tying run and a three-run double by Raul Ibanez that blew the first game of this series wide open, there were a lot of questions about the 29-year-old right-hander's struggles at the start this season and his role going forward, but Williams said he didn't plan on making any changes at the back end just yet.
"We have our guys set in the bullpen the way we want to have them set," Williams explained. "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."
Williams went into more depth about Clippard's struggles this morning in an appearance with MLB Network Radio hosts Jim Memolo and Todd Hollandsworth on the show First Pitch.
"For me right now, [Clippard] is just not commanding the strike zone as well as he has in the past," Williams said. "Fastball, curveball, changeup. Missing with his change a little bit. Missing with his fastball."
"The other night he threw a down and away changeup to Raul Ibanez. A ball that's off the plate and down, and Raul hit one into left-center field to essentially put the game away for them."
"It's a little bit of command. But he's one of the best in the business," Williams continued. "His track record tells us that he's going to be fine. Sometimes you go through this in the course of a season, but we've got confidence in Tyler and his ability to shut the eighth inning down and get it to [Rafael Soriano]."
In 11 appearances and 9 2/3 IP this season, Clippard has a 3.72 ERA, 4.48 FIP, six walks (5.59 BB/9) and 15 Ks (13.97).
Soriano, in his second season in D.C., has saved four games so far, throwing eight scoreless innings in his eight trips to the mound. Williams has talked before about not knowing the 34-year-old right-hander that well, but over the first few weeks, he's seen that Soriano has what the manager described as a "feel" for pitching.
"I don't know Sori as well as other folks know Sori," he said. "But what I know is he's got feel for pitching. So he's been in a bunch of different situations, right. He was set-up guy for Mariano. He's closed. He's thrown the eighth inning and he's done all that stuff..."
"He understands the hitters," Williams said, "and who he is going to face and who he can potentially face during the course of that ninth inning and he's got a game plan. He's a veteran guy, he knows what he's doing. So, he's not afraid to pitch around somebody to get to another guy if he feels more confident about that guy, regardless whether it's a one-run game or not. He's got confidence."
Drew Storen, 26, is pitching with renewed confidence as well. The '09 1st Round pick has yet to allow a walk in 7 1/3 IP this season and he's put up a 1.23 ERA and a 2.35 FIP in nine appearances, over which he's struck out nine (11.05 K/9).
Williams said on Tuesday that the right-handed reliever could take care of any role in the back of the bullpen, and has done it all as well.
Though he plans on keeping everyone in their roles, Clippard, Soriano and Storen, Williams said, can all work wherever they're needed depending on workload and availability.
"In theory, [all three pitchers] at the back of the bullpen are interchangeable depending on work load," he explained. "Depending on what happens during the course of a series or during a week or whatever it is. So I expect Drew to be ready to pitch at any point. He could pitch the seventh, he could pitch the eighth, he could close if need be and he's done it before and had success doing all three. So, does it change roles? I think that's yet to be determined and we'll see how it all plans out, but he's capable sure and he's pitched really well."
Storen has impressed Williams at the start of the regular season after a slow start in Florida.
"In Spring Training I think his command was a little bit off," Williams said. "And I think that's Spring Training. And his first outing especially, he wanted to throw the ball really hard and lacked some command. But since that first outing it's dialed in really well for him."
The Nationals also brought power right-hander Aaron Barrett back up yesterday, and the 26-year-old was immediately out there again in the loss to the Angels, striking out two in a quick 15-pitch frame last night.
Williams said he was happy to have the 6'3'' righty available again.
"From what I've seen in every situation we've put him in, he's aggressive and he's commanded the zone and he's gone after hitters," Williams said. "And I wouldn't expect anything else from Aaron. That's just his mentality. That experience, albeit minor league experience in the last inning helps him too."
Could Barrett take on an increased role if he continues to dominate hitters and other members of the bullpen continue to struggle?
"We're going to look at what the situation during in the course of a game and make a decision on who to bring in," the first-year manager said, "but Aaron is certainly confident in himself and we're confident in him."