Clippard confident with any role in Nats' 'pen
Veteran righty to pair with Storen as setup men in front of closer Soriano
WASHINGTON -- One thing Tyler Clippard doesn't lack is confidence. He still considers himself a closer and proved it in 2012, saving 32 games for the Nationals.
"Every year my mindset never changes. I feel like I'm good enough to close in the big leagues," Clippard said. "But if they use me in the seventh inning or whatever inning, I'm going to go out there and do the best I can to get the job done. ... You can't worry about the outside stuff you can't control."
General manager Mike Rizzo took steps to help the Nats go further into the postseason this year, signing Rafael Soriano to a two-year, $28 million contract. The move means that Clippard and Drew Storen will be the setup men -- for now.
"Initially, I think it was a surprise to a lot of people. I didn't go into the offseason thinking it was a need for our club," Clippard said. "Where I'm sitting, it's a great addition to our team. [Soriano] is going to contribute in a good way to our club, and he is going to help us win games.
"It's a position I wanted to do. I don't think the organization or anybody else have a problem with me feeling that way. Obviously, I wanted to close and I think they realize that. But they went a different direction and that's part of the game."
With Soriano on the club, Clippard was asked about his future with Washington. He believes he will be an integral part of the team.
"I've proven to this club that I'm a very versatile guy," Clippard said. "... I started in this organization as a starter, I went to the bullpen, pitched long relief, pitched in situations where I came in to face some lefties. I pitched in situations to set up, I've closed. I've done everything you could do on the mound with this organization. With that being said, none of that stuff [about being traded] crossed my mind. I don't think they think that. I can help this club in many ways and I know that, and I think they do too."
Clippard started last season as a setup man, but ended up as the closer by May because Henry Rodriguez was inconsistent. Clippard's best month was June, when he didn't allow a run in 11 2/3 innings and saved 10 games.
But Storen reclaimed the closer role before the postseason began because Clippard slumped badly during the month of September, allowing 11 runs in 12 1/3 innings. One American League scout felt Clippard was overused and looked tired. After all, Clippard pitched in 74 games and threw 72 2/3 innings. Clippard said arm fatigue had nothing to do with his late-season slump.
"I was feeling good in September and I didn't end the season like I wanted to," Clippard said. "... I was mechanically out of whack, you could say. I wasn't able to execute my pitches like I normally could. So that took away the success part in what I was able to do. But I was able to figure it out during the latter part of that month and into the playoffs, and that felt good."
Clippard did figure things out in the National League Division Series, striking out five batters in three innings against the Cardinals. However, the bullpen struggled, allowing 16 runs as the Cards advanced to the NLCS.
Clippard couldn't pinpoint why the relievers had problems in the postseason. However, he is determined to help Washington advance to the World Series in 2013.
"You learn how much fun it is to be in that situation," he said. "It gives you a lot of motivation to get back and experience those types of ballgames. There is nothing like pitching in the postseason. It's something that you worked your whole career to do. To finally experience it, you are motivated to get back to that moment."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.