Clippard vs. Storen – The Nationals Big Problem


When the Nats lost Drew Storen for the first half of the season due to elbow surgery, Davey Johnson did everything he possibly could to hold Storen’s closer job open for him. Johnson’s plan was to have Brad Lidge and Henry Rodriguez share the closer duties, with an occasional outing by Sean Burnett to help. When asked if Clippard would be used as a closer, Johnson consistently said that he did not want to use Clippard to close. He wanted to continue to use him as the primary threat in the eighth inning.

After Lidge went on the DL and Rodriguez was completely ineffective in the closer role, Johnson went to the closer by committee idea, continuing to say that he would give Clippard the occasional save, but would not outright give him the closer job.

Over the last two weeks, Clippard has blown up Johnson’s plan. Clipp has taken the closer job by the throat like a bulldog and is refusing to let go. His first save opportunity was on May 22nd. He has eight saves since then and has not blown a save yet.

Clippard has made no secret of his desire to be a closer. For a reliever, it is the sexy position. Most casual fans know the name of the closer for their team. They can’t tell you names of most of the rest of the guys in the bullpen. The closers get the attention, the highlights on ESPN and the big bucks. Any reliever with ambition wants the closer job.

Clippard’s success is creating the headache Johnson was trying to avoid—what to do when Storen is ready to come off the DL and be the team closer again? If Clippard picks up eight to fifteen saves between now and the time Storen is off the DL, how do you move a guy with twenty saves in less than two months out of the closer role and make him the set up guy again? What kind of a message does that send to Clippard? If you don’t give Storen his closer job back, what kind of message does that send to the team and any injured player? Don’t get hurt or you will lose your job?

Can Johnson alternate Clippard and Storen as the closers to reduce the stress on their arms? Can Storen be used as the eighth inning holds guy?

I do not envy Davey Johnson the train wreck that is coming in regard to the closer job if Clippard continues to be successful until Storen returns to the team. As hard as Johnson tried to avoid this problem, the ineffectiveness of the other pitchers to whom he tried to give the job has backed him into a corner. It will be interesting to see how Johnson manages this problem.