When Drew Storen went down with bone chips in his throwing elbow during spring training, it opened a world of concern for the Washington Nationals. Brad Lidge, the former All-Star closer, looked like a great signing to fill the gap, but then he fizzled out and was designated-for-assignment. Henry Rodriguez got the chance to close but was about as reliable as your dad’s 1971 Ford Pinto. Finally, Tyler Clippard started closing games, and the Nats haven’t looked back.
Clippard has been outstanding since being given the job as a full-time closer. He has converted each of his last 11 save opportunities, and since he earned that first save on May 22, his stats have been ludicrously good. He’s pitched 12.1 innings and given up just one hit in 43 batters faced. He hasn’t allowed a run to score while striking out 15 and walking just five.
Despite being a closer for about a month, Clippard is tied for 11th in saves in the National League. Of the closers ranked above him, all but four of them have more blown saves than Clippard has, and his blown save came on April 26 when he wasn’t even the team’s closer yet. The Nats play in lots of close games, they’ve played in 24 one-run games this season, making Clippard’s services even more valuable.
The Nats official closer, Drew Storen, has started a throwing program targeting a return to the bullpen around the All-Star Break. That gives the Nats less than a month until they have to deal with a difficult decision. Who closes games for the Nats?
Storen was an outstanding closer last season, converting 43 saves in 48 opportunities in his rookie season. His stuff is unquestionable, and he certainly has a “closer’s mentality.” But coming back from elbow surgery, one has to wonder if maybe Davey Johnson and the organization will decide to ease him back into the role. He certainly deserves to get the closer’s role back when he’s healthy; an injury should never take a job from a guy if he comes back fully healthy and performs.
Ultimately, I think Clippard and Storen will split the role for a while as an effort to ease Storen back from injury. Clippard clearly wants to keep the job but knows it’s Storen’s for the taking once he returns. Just imagine the amount of depth that will provide in the back end of the bullpen if Storen returns to 2011 form. It’s a great problem for the Nats to have and one they’ll have to address soon.