Clippard gets his chance to close

Clippard gets his chance to close
May 23, 2012, 2:58 pm
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PHILADELPHIA -- Rarely does Tyler Clippard get the opportunity to watch the Nationals celebrate a victory in person, let alone be at the center of such a celebration on the field. Such is life for a setup man, who upon handing over the game to his closer heads down the dugout tunnel to ice his arm and watch the ninth inning on TV.

"Usually when I pitch the eighth, I just come to the clubhouse and we just do this," Clippard said, making a high-five motion to no one in particular. "It's a lot more fun out on the field."

Something the Nationals reliever finally got to experience last night. Summoned by manager Davey Johnson to pitch the ninth inning with a three-run lead, Clippard made quick work of the Phillies and then got to receive high-fives from everyone on the Nationals' roster following the 5-2 victory.

Might we see this scene play out more moving forward? Earlier in the day, Clippard made an impassioned case for himself as the Nationals' new fill-in closer, now that Henry Rodriguez flamed out and Drew Storen and Brad Lidge continue to recover from injuries.

"I want it bad," he said. "I've been fighting for the opportunity for three years now. I feel like I've been over-stepped a few times along the way for the opportunity to get those saves, for whatever reason. I don't really know. But they have a plan, and I trust their plan. We've had a good year this year and we've been winning. You can't really go against the grain as far that stuff is concerned. But, yeah, I would love an opportunity."

Clippard is hardly a selfish player. He's been the consummate team-first guy over the last three seasons, throwing more innings than any other reliever in the majors, many of them coming at critical points in a game with runners in scoring position and the opponent's best hitters at the plate.

And he'll be the first to tell you that Storen (his good friend and roommate) deserves to reassume his closer's job once he returns from elbow surgery in early July.

But after putting in his time over multiple seasons, and pitching as well as any reliever in baseball, you can't fault Clippard for wanting to ascend to the highest-profile role there is out of the bullpen.

"If you're a bullpen guy in the big leagues, in my opinion, you want to be a closer," he said. "That's the premier job as a bullpen guy. If you're not going to be a starter, you might as well want to do that. There's no secret. It's the kind of natural progression of anybody's career. You want to be the best at what you do. In my opinion, the guys who are the best at what they do in the bullpen usually get closer's jobs. That's what you want to do."

So, is Clippard the Nationals' new closer? The way Johnson describes the situation, it doesn't sound that way. The veteran manager said he plans to use a closer-by-committee for now, picking the right pitcher for the situation on each given night.

That could be Sean Burnett. That could be Craig Stammen. That could be Clippard.

For at least one night, though, Clippard got to savor the experience of pitching the ninth inning on the road with his team holding a slim lead. It felt different than what he's become accustomed to the last three years. And it felt good.

"A lot more adrenaline, a lot more nervousness," he said. "But it was a good feeling. I havent had that for a while, so it was a lot of fun tonight.