July 2010

Inside Pitch Live with Pitcher Tyler Clippard

Relief pitcher Tyler Clippard spent some time prior to today’s game in the PNC Diamond Club, fielding questions from fans and  moderator Dave Jageler, Nationals play-by-play broadcaster, for another installment of Inside Pitch Live:

The bullpen has been terrific this year. This is kind of a new role for you, being a reliever. How is it different from being a starter, which is what you were when you started your career?

TC: I like it. Obviously the transition has been good. Going out there, getting three outs is a lot less stressful than trying to get 20. So it’s been nice. It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve enjoyed it and had a little success doing it.

But it is pretty stressful. If you come into a 2-1 game, Strasburg threw seven great innings, you don’t want to give that up.

Yeah, absolutely. But at the same time, it’s fun to get put in those situations–keeping your team in the game. That’s what it’s all about. I enjoy it. It’s a lot of fun being in this role and contributing as much as I’ve been able to. I’m just enjoying it, kind of going day by day and seeing what happens.

You’re not wearing a “Clipp and Save” t-shirt. That was a great giveaway. You and Matt have provided a great combo. It’s been fun to watch you two.

That’s a fun little saying, I guess. I’m just glad to be in that same category as Matt, trying to do my thing.

You’re one of the better relief pitchers on the team, not to grind on anyone else. They’re using you a lot. Are you concerned they might be using you too much?

I appreciate that. Thank you. No, I don’t think so. It’s one of those things in this game, especially at the Big League level, you’ve got to be ready to throw every day. That’s kind of what our job is, that’s what it entails. And I’m going to be real open with how I feel and be real verbal with my health and things like that to the organization and to Riggs and people like that. So far, so good. I’ve felt good all year and I’m the kind of guy who wants the ball, so put me out every night and I’ll be fine.

How many pitches would you throw in a game?

Well hopefully nine (audience laughing)–with three strikeouts. As few as possible. You go in there as a reliever and try to get quick outs. That’s our job as pitchers, so hopefully not too many. If you get up there in the 20-30 range, it’s probably not going good, o as few as possible.

If you’re a starting pitcher, you may throw 180-200 innings in a season. As a relief pitcher, you may throw maybe 60-80 inning. What makes the wear and tear in your arm more difficult pitching every day or every other day as opposed to every fifth inning? How is that different?

Your body responds differently. The things that you feel are definitely different. I think the type of innings that you’re throwing–if you’re throwing stressful innings, where instead of having ten-pitch innings when you’ll probably feel better the next day, whereas you could get the same result but throw 25 pitches. So that’s the thing. You want to be as efficient as possible, throw strikes, and try to get in and out as quickly as possible so you can be ready the next day. That’s what you try to do as a reliever–stay healthy, accumulate innings, like I’ve been able to do, but at the same time during those innings, you want to keep your pitch count down. I think that’s a big thing.

I just have a comment. I actually saw you in the Minor Leagues when you were with the Yankees organization. I saw the no-hitter you pitched, ironically, against the Nationals affiliate in Harrisburg in 2006. That was one of the more memorable moments in terms of all the different games I’ve been to.

Yeah, that was one of my most memorable moments too, so I’m glad you were able to see that. Not too many people were there really. I think there were probably about 600 people in the stands. But that was a fun night for me.

Where did you grow up? Can you talk about your background and how you ended up with the Nationals?

I grew up in Tampa, Florida, and was drafted by the Yankees in 2003, went through their farm system kind of one step at a time. I was in the Minor Leagues about four years and was able to get to the Big Leagues in 2007 with them as a starter. I finished that year and was traded over to Washington. Then, in the ’08 season, I had a couple of starts for the Nationals here. Then in ’09 I was transferred to the bullpen. It’s been a great time here in this organization. I’ve loved every minute of it and I hope I can stay here for a long time.

You had some great success against the Mets. Your first Big League start was on a Sunday night, ESPN game against the Mets. And then of course this year, you had a great outing against them–three innings with seven strikeouts in a game at Citi Field.

I get a lot of flak from the Mets fans. I don’t think they like me too much. But they’ve gotten me too. I haven’t dominated them every time. But I’ve had some success.

Strasburg, seven innings pitched, Clippard gets the eighth, and Matt Capps saves it. Nationals get the win. How about that?

Let’s do it.

Lineups vs. the Mets

Stephen Strasburg returns to the mound today for his sixth Major League start. It will be his last outing before the All-Star Game roster is announced, and while his record stands at 2-2, the Nationals have scored just one run in his last three starts. Even if you’re not convinced Strasburg’s limited time in the Majors merits him a spot in the All-Star Game, perhaps you are convinced that his brilliant Major League debut merits him an ESPY award for “Breakthrough Athlete.” Click here to vote for the ESPY’s.

 

Mets (45-35):

1.    Angel Pagan – CF

2.    Alex Cora – 2B

3.    David Wright – 3B

4.    Ike Davis – 1B

5.    Jason Bay – LF

6.    Josh Thole – C

7.    Jeff Francoeur – RF

8.    Ruben Tejada – SS

9.    R.A. Dickey – SP (6-1, 2.98 ERA)

* New York has committed just one error in its last 13 games.

* The Mets drove in four of their five runs in a 5-3 victory last night with two outs.

 

 Nationals (35-46):

1.      Nyjer Morgan – CF

2.      Willie Harris - RF

3.      Ryan Zimmerman – 3B

4.      Adam Dunn – 1B

5.      Josh Willingham – LF

6.      Ivan Rodriguez – C

7.      Adam Kennedy – 2B

8.      Ian Desmond – SS

9.      Stephen Strasburg – SP (2-2, 2.27 ERA)

* Coincidence or not, the Nationals’ 2.53 bullpen ERA since May 17–the date of Drew Storen’s recall from Triple-A Syracuse–is good enough for best in the NL and second in the Majors. Prior to Storen’s arrival, Washington’s bullpen ERA on the season was 4.18.

 

Nats vs. Mets take two

At first, last night’s game versus the Mets seemed to be headed in the same direction as many of the Nationals’ games the past month–a close, low-scoring game, pitched well enough for Washington’s starter to earn the win, but which ultimately ended in a heartbreaking loss due to lack of offensive output. But last night was different. With the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth and the scoreboard reading 1-1, Ryan Zimmerman hit a game-ending sacrifice fly, providing Willie Harris enough time to scoot home and beat Jeff Francoeur’s throw from right field. Game over. Nationals 2, Mets 1.

 

Some fun facts about last night’s game:

- Livan Hernandez did not walk a batter and fanned seven, a season-high, in 7.0 innings. He allowed only one run. Hernandez has not given up more than two runs in any of his nine home starts this year. It’s the second-longest streak of consecutive home starts allowing two or fewer runs by any pitcher in Expos/Nationals franchise history. Scott Sanderson holds the record with ten straight starts in 1980.

- Including last night’s 2-1 victory, Washington has played an MLB-leading 46 games decided by two runs or less this season.

- At 14-13 (.519), the Nationals have played discernibly better baseball against NL East foes than when facing interdivision opponents (21-32, .396).

 

Mets (44-35):

1.    Angel Pagan – CF

2.    Ruben Tejada – SS

3.    David Wright – 3B

4.    Ike Davis – 1B

5.    Jason Bay – LF

6.    Rod Barajas – C

7.    Jeff Francoeur – RF

8.    Alex Cora – 2B

9.    Jonathon Niese – SP (5-2, 3.84 ERA)

 

* The Mets have lost five of their last six road games, a skid immediately following a streak of seven consecutive road wins.

* Last night, the Mets suffered their ninth walk-off loss of the year, tied for most in the Majors with Arizona and Seattle.

 Nationals (35-45):

1.      Nyjer Morgan – CF

2.      Cristian Guzman – 2B

3.      Adam Dunn – 1B

4.      Ryan Zimmerman – 3B

5.      Josh Willingham – LF

6.      Ivan Rodriguez – C

7.      Michael Morse – RF

8.      Ian Desmond – SS

9.      Luis Atilano – SP (6-4, 4.33 ERA)

* Washington’s current bullpen ERA of 3.43 ranks fifth in the NL and ninth in MLB. Last year, the Nationals’ bullpen ranked last in MLB with a 5.04 ERA. Contrasting bullpen ERAs from this season to last, the Nationals’ improvement of -1.61 ERA paces the Major Leagues.

The Shortstop and the Glove


Inside Pitch Cover Ian Desmond.jpgIt was a few minutes before the game and there were a handful of fans circled around the photo well at Nationals Park, adjacent to the Nats dugout, lined up three, four, five deep just waiting patiently for an autograph. There were kids with baseballs, dads with jerseys and a mom with a pink bat. There was just one player present and it wasn’t a surprise that it was Ian Desmond. He has made it a daily practice to give fans what they want–his autograph. No one walked away empty-handed.

Everyone got an autograph and everyone left smiling. It is the Ian Desmond way: no shortcuts and stay until the job is finished. That’s why he takes extra ground balls. That’s why he practices the minor details of his position like throwing the ball sidearm to second base instead of overhand to save precious milliseconds. That’s why he practices signing his autograph, a signature he can sign in a blink of an eye.

 

Just a few months into his rookie season, Desmond is already making a difference on the field and with his storytelling in the clubhouse–even if no one believes him.

 

“You want a story of young fables,” said Nyjer Morgan laughing, who nicknamed him ‘Aesop’s Fables’ because he is full of tales. “He tells the most ridiculous stories. He acts like he is so wise. He thinks he is a wise man but his hands still haven’t crawled out of his turtle shell.”

 

Desmond could only laugh. It is all in fun, just part of being a rookie.

When you put Desmond and Morgan in the same room, you worry about the oxygen levels because collectively they are never short on words. Their friendship resembles Mr. Miyagi and Daniel Son–but they both think they are the teacher filled with infinite wisdom. Desmond doesn’t bear gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh but he is a man of many tales–spontaneous stories that don’t come to mind very easily. Morgan–a person who is never out of words–was at a loss trying to think of one of Desmond’s parables.

“I can’t remember anything because they are too ridiculous to remember,” Morgan said. “You just have to hear it for yourself.”

Desmond is a self-proclaimed wise man and Morgan is full of wise cracks.

“This is the problem,” Desmond said. “These older guys can’t appreciate the fact that a young guy has a little bit of wisdom. I got a little bit of wisdom. When I try to talk to Nyjer, he automatically takes it as jargon. But really there is a lot of reality to what I say, but he just doesn’t want to hear it.”

Sorry, Rookie.

His fables–or words of wisdom–have reached the point that when he opens his mouth he is immediately discredited. The common response is “Come on Aesop, that’s not true. Stop embellishing the story.” If you can’t argue the facts, just discredit the source.

Desmond was trying to show Morgan a few exercises with the foam roller in the Nationals weight room. The players roll on it to stretch their muscles but Nyjer would only use it to stretch his leg muscles so Desmond told him, “Nyj–that is great to use on your lower back and shoulders, it breaks up the tissue and makes your arm feel better.”

Yeah, whatever you say, Mr. Desmond.

For a week straight, Nyjer kept saying, “No, no, I don’t believe you.” Nyjer didn’t alter his routine and believed it was just for the legs. As the fable goes, Morgan tried it and he liked it.

“But when I tell him something,” Desmond said. “He pretends he came up with it on his own. ‘Aesop didn’t tell me, I thought of it myself.’”

Deciphering what is fact and what is fiction is as easy as asking two little kids who started the fight? The kids immediately point at each other and you are right back where you started. His nickname is no longer just a name–it is an action, a verb, a response to anything that can’t possibly be true, as in “That’s Aesop.”

 It works both ways. When he tells a story or when his teammates see him diving to his right, making a play in the hole that only he can get to and the first expression that comes to mind is “Wow, that’s Aesop.”

His ability to make unbelievable plays and his production at the plate earned him the starting position after Spring Training, and now he is showing he can play every day at the Major League level. It hasn’t been easy but it wasn’t easy getting here either. It took five years, numerous comparisons to Derek Jeter, a broken hand and a Single-A demotion. It has been the journey along the way that has provided him the wisdom and the knowledge to know that he can’t take it for granted.

 

Desmond off the field is the same person on the field. His reflecting sunglasses, gold chain, baggy pants and loose jersey is who he is–a laid-back, low key, Floridian. He keeps his family close to his heart–literally–there is a tattoo of his mom, dad–he passed away when Desmond was a child–and his step dad tattooed on his chest and the words “Family” tattooed on his left wrist.

 

“He’s special,” Third Base Coach Pat Listach said. “He’s out there and he wants the ball hit to him. And we do, too.”


desmond 4 c.JPGDesmond is somewhat of an anomaly when it comes to his defense–he has the most errors in the Majors but still is one the best rated shortstops according to his range and ultimate zone rating, a statistic that tries to quantify a player’s value by the number of runs he saves. He makes the ‘how-did-he-do-that,’ gold glove play look routine but he has occasionally made the routine play look challenging.

It is just part of being a rookie–there are going to be errors just like there might be holes in his stories.

 “But it’s plays that are made that maybe some other people don’t make that’s impressive about Desmond,” Riggleman said. “Last year, there were plays that weren’t made that aren’t scored, errors that were killing our pitching staff. Guys are making plays now, Desmond especially.”

There is no need to embellish how good he can be, all you have to do is watch him.

After former General Manager Jim Bowden watched Desmond in 2005–his first invite to Big League Spring Training–he picked up his phone and called former Scouting Director Dana Brown to talk about Desmond. Bowden had just one complaint.

“Dana,” Bowden said. “You made a mistake when you drafted Desmond.”

“Why?” he asked, mystified by the statement.

“Because you took him in the third round instead of the first round,” Bowden replied.

Mistakes aside, he continues to prove at the young age of 24 that he can be a main contributor for the Nationals in the years to come.

“He’s a got a chance to be one of the elite shortstops in baseball,” Riggleman said.

That just means you should get his autograph while you can because it is only going up in value, even if he isn’t concerned with limiting the supply.

And that is no fable.

Nats vs. Mets: Game 1

If you believe the Nationals play in month-long spurts or slumps, you are probably glad that today is July 1. We can officially say goodbye to the month of June. On top of the promise a new month brings, the Nationals face the Mets tonight–a team that weathered both an 85-minute rain delay and a late flight from Puerto Rico last night. The Nationals themselves return home to kick off a 10-game homestand that will carry them into the All-Star Break, just another reason to stay positive. But the team has already been doing that. Here’s what they have to say about the June slump:

Jim Riggleman:All of us feel like we can win more games…I feel like there’s enough talent here that the glass is half-full.”

Ryan Zimmerman: “Whether we’ve won five in a row or lost five in a row, I think we have the same amount of confidence that we’re going to win every game.

Ian Desmond: “The sense in here is the feeling that you get when you can’t catch a break. That’s what it feels like. That’s the best description. There’s no one sad, no one’s upset. There’s probably some frustrated people, but no one’s down by any means. We’re ready to go, we’re ready to win every game.”

Mets (44-34):

1.    Jesus Feliciano – CF

2.    Ruben Tejada – SS

3.    David Wright – 3B

4.    Ike Davis – 1B

5.    Jeff Francoeur – RF

6.    Chris Carter – LF

7.    Henry Blanco – C

8.    Alex Cora – 2B

9.    Johan Santana – SP (5-5, 3.55 ERA)

* David Wright led the National League and was third in the Majors, hitting .404 (42-104) in June. He also led the NL and was second in the Majors with 29 RBI during the same period. Wright became the first player in franchise history to bat at least .400 with 25 or more RBI in a calendar month.

Nationals (34-45):

1.      Nyjer Morgan – CF

2.      Cristian Guzman – 2B

3.      Ryan Zimmerman – 3B

4.      Adam Dunn – 1B

5.      Josh Willingham – LF

6.      Michael Morse – RF

7.      Ian Desmond – SS

8.      Wil Nieves – C

9.      Livan Hernandez – SP (6-4, 3.10 ERA)

* The Nationals’ 34 wins to date are eight more than the 26 W’s registered by the team prior to last season’s All-Star Break. Last year, Washington did not record its 34th win until August 3rd, an 8-4 victory at Pittsburgh.

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