Long road took Clippard to All-Star Game
Nats righty became dominant reliever after resisting move to 'pen
PHOENIX -- After arriving in Arizona to participate in his first All-Star Game, Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard had dinner with his father, Bob Clippard, on Sunday evening and reflected on the journey he took to get to the Midsummer Classic.
The two talked about how Bob Clippard taught his son how play the game of baseball, about the younger Clippard playing in the Senior Little League World Series in Kissimmee, Fla., and facing future Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez. There was even a discussion about him struggling to become a starting pitcher and his reluctance to become a reliever.
"We got to sit down and reflect on how this all came about, which is really cool and special," Clippard said. "We enjoyed last night and had breakfast this morning."
Clippard has been a special player since he joined the Nationals for good during summer 2009. In a phrase, Clippard has been a dominating reliever, and this season has a 1.75 ERA, leading the Major Leagues with 23 holds.
Ten years ago, it was almost impossible for a setup man to make an All-Star team. Only closers, it seemed, were allowed to be on the roster. Clippard has a feeling why the tide has turned.
"Setup guys are used differently than it was back then," Clippard said. "The way that we are used now, we get a better chance to prove how good we are. ... The game is changing. It's the maturation process since the beginning of time. There used to be four-man rotations, four guys in the bullpen, and half of them threw four innings at a time. It's the way the game has transpired."
There was a point during his professional career when Clippard wasn't sure if he wanted to become a reliever. At the start of the 2009 season, Clippard thought he would be in the rotation for Triple-A Syracuse, but the pitching coach there, Steve McCatty -- now the Nationals' pitching coach -- and manager, Tim Foli, had other plans for Clippard.
NL STARTING NINE
Near the end of Spring Training, McCatty informed Clippard that he was going to be a reliever to start the season. The reason for the switch was because Clippard threw too many pitches as a starter and didn't have good fastball command.
Foli and McCatty felt Clippard would be better as a reliever because he wouldn't have any problems facing hitters the first time through the order.
"I felt if he gets behind, he can use his offspeed pitches [in relief]," McCatty said. "He has a resilient arm and good velocity on his fastball. We wanted to see how it went."
Clippard felt like the Nationals were giving up on him. During the drive from Florida to Syracuse, Clippard called his father, who told his son to be thankful that he was still in baseball.
"I had a long conversation with my dad and told him where I was at in my career -- what was going on and everything like that," Clippard remembered. "He put it in perspective and just said, 'You still have a uniform on, you are in Triple-A and you are on the 40-man roster. You have a lot of good things going for you. Don't let this little hiccup stop you. You have all the talent in the world.'
"To hear him put it in perspective like that, it made a lot of sense to me. So as the 20-hour car ride progressed, I started feeling a lot better. By the time I got to Syracuse, I was itching to go and hungry again. It went from being devastated to having a higher energy [level] than I had ever had."
Clippard has showed that hunger and energy over the past two-plus seasons and is not even thinking about becoming a starter again.
"With all the great arms that we have in the Nationals' organization coming up, and the guys that are throwing now, my role is exactly where it needs to be to help this club win a championship," Clippard said. "So I'm content with that. I think I could start again. Is it going to happen? Probably not. I'm in a role that I'm very comfortable in and I'm having a lot of success. If it's not broke, don't fix it."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.