Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
A starter his whole career, Tyler Clippard posted a 2.69 ERA in relief last season.
Little did Clippard realize at the time how the new role would re-energize his career. After a strong stint at Syracuse, he was called back up to Washington, where he quickly became one of the bullpen's most-trusted members. By season's end, he had posted a 2.69 ERA in 41 appearances, allowing a scant 36 hits in 60 1/3 innings pitched and taking on a high-profile, set-up role.
Now back in camp as a full-time reliever, Clippard doesn't want to rest on his laurels and just assume a roster spot is his. He sat down for an interview earlier today to discuss the successful transition from starter to reliever, why his style of pitching seems to work out of the bullpen and where his recent hole-in-one at a Viera golf course ranks among his sporting achievements. ...
MARK ZUCKERMAN: Last year was the first time you had ever relieved. How long did it take before you felt comfortable?
TYLER CLIPPARD: That's tough, because I just got thrown into that role. I started all spring, and then as soon as the season started, I was relieving. And it started off doing well, and it continued all year. So I would say the transition process went real smoothly for me. As far as feeling comfortable out of that role? They made it easy for me, because at Triple-A, it was more on a regimented basis, where I would throw and then get maybe one or two days off and throw again, instead of not knowing when I was going to throw. I had a better idea. And then that way, once I got to the big leagues, being ready every day was a lot easier. So the transition process, they really made it a lot easier for me in that way.
MZ: As a guy who had started all along and probably thought all along you'd make it as a starter in the big leagues, when they first approached you about it, was there any hesitation?
TC: I was pissed. Yeah, absolutely. I felt like I could start. I still feel like I could start. But it was one of those things that, those decisions aren't in your hands. They told me. I was upset, obviously. But I kind of turned the corner real quick. It was the last day of spring training, so it actually worked out real good. I was told, got that feeling of, "Man, this sucks," got in my car and drove to Syracuse. And literally 10 minutes into that drive, I got to that point in my mind where I was excited about it. I looked at it as an opportunity instead of being a negative. So that was good. I wasn't happy about it. Nobody would be. But I tried to make the best of it.
MZ: How do you think your repertoire works with pitching in relief, and does it allow you to have more success?
TC: Yeah, I think it does. Because I'm a guy who, I don't want to say pitches backwards, but I have the ability to do that because of the kind of offspeed stuff I have and how I use it. So in a relief role, I'm a little bit different from a lot of guys in the sense that I don't throw real hard, but my offspeed stuff complements my fastball really well. A lot of guys coming out of the bullpen, guys like [Brian Bruney], throw really hard. I can't just sit there and pump fastballs in there at 98 mph. I throw 90-91. I have to use my change-up. I have to use my cutter and my curveball and things like that. So I think it helps that I can pitch backwards, and guys aren't really looking for that from a reliever.
MZ: Another aspect that's a bit backwards is the fact you've been real good against left-handed hitters. Is that also another thing you can provide that others can't?
TC: Absolutely. And they told me. I've always been that way in my career, even as a starter. I was always more effective, or as effective, against lefties as I was against righties. For whatever reason, I've always felt comfortable throwing to lefties. As a guy out of the bullpen, I'm not really the norm. I can come in to face righties, but I can also come in to get the lefties out. I think that brings a whole other dynamic. They don't have to worry so much about matchups with me like they might with other relievers.
MZ: The numbers you put up last year were good. You got to a point where you were being counted on to pitch out of some tough situations. Do you feel like a spot on the roster is yours, or do you still have to compete for it?
TC: Oh, I've still got to earn my spot. There's a lot of talent in this room. I'm not taking anything for granted, and there's no way I could. Nothing's ever been handed to me in my career. Yeah, I had a good year last year, but we also brought in a lot of good arms this year to make the club better. I feel like I can be a part of that, but I still have to earn my spot. There's no reason why I shouldn't have to.
MZ: What's a bigger thrill: Pitching out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth inning, or a hole-in-one?
TC: Pitching out of jam, for sure, would be better. Because that's what I do for a living. The hole-in-one is icing on the cake. But I enjoy everything that happens on the baseball field way more than all the other stuff.