Wednesday, September 22, 2010, 12:31 p.m.
By Mark Zuckerman
Tyler Clippard never set out to win 10 games or strike out 100 batters. Few relievers would even set such lofty goals for themselves at the start of a season.
The workhorse of the Washington Nationals bullpen, though, achieved each milestone Tuesday night against the Houston Astros and in the process etched his place in baseball history.
Clippard is the first Washington-based reliever to win 10 games since Dennis Higgins of the 1969 Senators and the first to record 100 strikeouts since Bump Hadley of the 1931 Senators, according to baseball-reference.com.
He's also only the second major-league reliever to pull off the 10-win, 100-strikeout combo this century, joined by Juan Rincon of the 2004 Minnesota Twins.
"It's humbling," Clippard said. "I don't really know what to say. It's just one of those things that's taken place. I've gotten used a lot this year, and I've been loving to get in there as much as I can and help contribute as much as I can. And here we are."
Clippard's workload has actually diminished somewhat over the course of the season. Back in May and June when the Nationals were involved in close games almost every night, Clippard led the league in innings and was on pace to pitch about 120 innings.
But after a rough patch in late June and early July that featured four blown saves and three losses, manager Jim Riggleman started using Clippard less-often and less-pressurized situations.
The 25-year-old has since righted his ship -- he's been scored upon in only two of his last 21 appearances -- and has regained his manager's trust as a late-inning reliever.
"I'm just making my pitches in the right situations," he said. "It's one of those things where you feel confident out there. Lately, I feel like I've been able to throw all my pitches for strikes. And that's the key to why I've been successful. It's a long season, so there are going to be bumps in the road. But lately, it's been good."
Clippard certainly was in top form Tuesday night after entering for the top of the eighth with the Nationals trailing 3-1 at the time. Though he walked Astros pinch-hitter Anderson Hernandez and then was called for a balk, he responded by striking out Jason Bourgeios and Jeff Keppinger.
The latter strikeout was Clippard's 100th of the season. And when his teammates rallied to score seven times in the bottom of the eighth en route to an 8-4 victory, Clippard found himself in the win column for the 10th time this year. He's tied with starter Livan Hernandez for the staff lead in that category, and trails Hernandez by only 10 strikeouts for the team lead.
Not bad for a relief pitcher who has simply shown up for work every day hoping to get an inning or two of work and has put himself in elite company along the way.
"It's a nice thing to have on your resume," Clippard said. "It's not something I set out to do. It's just one of those things that kind of happened. I think that's the best way it could have happened: Just going out there every day trying to get it done. And luckily, I did."
Mark Zuckerman covered the Nationals for The Washington Times from 2005-09. In addition to regular work this season for CSNwashington.com, he also covers the team at www.natsinsider.com. Email Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org.