Saturday, March 24, 2012

Who closes if Storen isn't ready?

Associated Press photo
Brad Lidge is one of manager Davey Johnson's backup closer candidates.
SARASOTA, Fla. -- With Drew Storen's status still in question, manager Davey Johnson is making plans now in case he needs to anoint a fill-in closer to open the season.

Johnson said this morning he would likely go with Brad Lidge or Henry Rodriguez in the ninth inning if Storen isn't ready by Opening Day.

"Those are the only two I'm willing to throw out there at this time," the manager said.

Lidge, 35, has by far the most closing experience on the staff, having saved 223 games for the Astros and Phillies over the last nine seasons. Though the right-hander's fastball velocity isn't what it once was, his slider remains as sharp as ever, and he's pitched well this spring (allowing one earned run over five innings, striking out seven without walking a batter).

Rodriguez, meanwhile, may have the best pure "stuff" on the entire pitching staff. The 25-year-old right-hander regularly reaches triple digits with his fastball and did record two saves late last season.

That may sound like a slight on Tyler Clippard, the Nationals' All-Star set-up man, but Johnson finds him too valuable in his current role pitching out of jams in the seventh and eighth innings.

"The role that he played last year during the season -- and I watched a lot of his appearances -- it's hard to replace that, what he did," the manager said. "I mean, what he did last year was at least as important, if not more important, than the closer.

"It goes back to the old adage: You want to avoid from weakening two positions. I keep that in mind all the time."

All of these contingency plans may be for naught if Storen is ready to pitch come Opening Day. The young closer has been dealing with arm soreness and strep throat and hasn't pitched in a game since March 7.

An MRI taken on Storen's elbow this week revealed no damage to either the ligament or tendon, only joint inflammation. He's expected to resume throwing on Tuesday or Wednesday. At that point, he'll have to see if he can build up enough appearances and innings to be ready for the April 5 opener in Chicago.

Ideally, Johnson would like Storen to make several game appearances and even pitch on back-to-back days. That may not be possible given the limited timeframe, so Storen may have to open the season on the disabled list and then return sometime in mid-April.

"I'm not saying it's out of the question for him to break with us," Johnson said. "But I'm going to prepare my staff for the opener with the possibility that Storen might not be my closer because of being cautious and making sure he's going to be 100 percent right."


Will said...

If Johnson insists upon keeping Clippard in the set up role (which I'm not totally sure makes sense), then it has to be Lidge.

However, I'd probably like to see DJ use a situational closer. For example, if we're playing the Phillies and up two runs with Rollins, Victorino, Utley and Howard coming up (all of whom can bat from the left side), then use Clippard (who's very good against lefies). But if it's right handed heavy, then opt for Lidge or HRod.

whatsanattau said...

Well both HRod and Lidge are better than what many teams are throwing out there *cough orioles cough*. I'm guessing KC, Oakland, Baltimore, and at least a half dozen other teams don't have as strong a set as candidates for their primary closer as the Nats have for their backups.

... the sun is shining somewhere.

kirby said...

Kinda shocks me he won't let Clip give it a shot. But my last concern is the bullpen.

Game on MASN today, will we get a joint announce crew against the O's like normal?

Anonymous said...

@kirby: Orioles announcing crew only.

Original Nats Fan said...

which is why I'm listening to C & D on the radio.

HHover said...

Smart decision to keep Clip where he is. The setup role often involves higher leverage situations than the closer role, and Clip is certainly more dependable than HRod.

sjm308 said...

I am on Davey's side on this one. Yes, Clippard is amazing in his role and maybe would flourish in the closer role but maybe not. There is really something to be said about someone who can come in with men on and extinguish a rally and no one does that better than Clippard.

My only question might be, what does Clippard think about it. If he has aspirations of becoming a closer then he probably should get a shot. I am guessing closers make more money then set-up guys. At least Davey is putting it out there and there is a line of communication so that nothing is hazy.

kirby said...

Bummer for the O's crew....

Anonymous said...

I'm also with DJ on this. HIs comment about not creating a problem with two positions resonates with me. Moreover, since Clip does covet a closer's role, it could create more of a medium-term issue if Davey tried out Clip as the closer now, in terms of diverting Clip from focusing on his superb role as set-up.

SonnyG10 said...

I also agree with Davey. Clip is too valuable as the set up man. I've no doubt that Clip could handle the closer role, but I think that would weaken our bull pen. In Clip's case I think he should be paid like a closer. He's that valuable in his setup role.

Big Cat said...

I think this is a no brainer. You give the ball to HRod and give him a little rope. This guy has unbelievable stuff. Everyone talks about his 98-100 mph heater, but his curve is just totally lights out also. Yes, strikes is a problem sometimes, but you have to break eggs to make an omelette

Doc said...

It's been stated by NatsInsiders here, on this post, as well as previous ones, that the set-up role is probably more important than the closer's role. Lots of sabermetrics to support it too!

Clip is our man to set it up. If the Nats didn't have him they would do well to find someone as effective as him. I'm all in on what Davey is thinking.

Fortunately, this team has a lot of BP guys that can be mixed and matched. HRod and Lidge would seem to be able to do the deal wherever you put them.

Rizzo has done good job on bringing this BP together.

When Tinkerbell is totally healthy, the BP will be even stronger!

Now lets score some runs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

What is the possibility that flores picks up a 1st basemens mitt? some pop comes out of his lumber

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