Photo by Rachel Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Tyler Clippard has put 18 men on base in his last 5 2/3 innings.
Summoned by Jim Riggleman after Livan Hernandez allowed back-to-back singles to open the eighth, Clippard added fuel to the fire by allowing two more singles and a sacrifice fly. That prompted Riggleman to turn to Sean Burnett, who nearly got out of the jam by getting Oscar Salazar to hit a routine double play grounder to second, only to watch as Cristian Guzman and Ian Desmond botched the turn, allowing the tying run to score.
So the lone run charged to Clippard last night was of the unearned variety, though it's not like he could take credit for performing all that well. If anything, this was a continuation of a disturbing trend for the right-hander, who is suddenly putting men on base at a staggering rate.
From Opening Day through June 22, Clippard allowed 47 opposing batters to reach base in 45 2/3 innings. But in six appearances since then, he's allowed a staggering 18 batters to reach in only 5 2/3 innings. He's also allowed 10 runs (seven earned), raising his ERA from 1.58 to 2.63.
What's going on here? Is this a legitimate concern, or simply a blip on an otherwise dominant season?
"I don't know," Riggleman said. "I don't know if it's more than just a little blip there. But certainly he's done such a great job for us. I wanted him to get it done for us, to build up some confidence that I felt like he found Sunday (when he struck out three of four Mets batters faced). But it's kind of back to the drawing board."
"Back to the drawing board" could be code for: Drew Storen is about to take over as the Nationals' primary setup man. The rookie reliever continues to impress and has been scored upon in only two of his last 14 appearances.
More impressive, Storen has shown an ability to pitch his way out of jams. He's allowed only three of 20 inherited runners to score since making his big-league debut in mid-May. Clippard, meanwhile, has allowed 14 of 31 inherited runners to cross the plate this season.
Might Clippard have benefited from starting the eighth inning with the bases empty instead of entering with two on and nobody out? Perhaps. After the game, Riggleman said he regretted letting Hernandez re-take the mound for the eighth.
But even in that scenario, Storen might have been the better choice. He's certainly been the more-effective setup man lately, perhaps enough to convince the manager to promote him to a more-significant role.