Clippard quick to bounce back
After a dominant first half of the season, Washington Nationals closer Tyler Clippard has had a few rocky outings since the All-Star break.
In 19 appearances from May 22 to July 8, the 27-year-old had a 0.49 ERA with 20 strikeouts and 14 saves.
The reliever who made the All-Star team in 2011 as the Nationals' setup man made a strong case for a second straight bid.
But Clippard started to struggle in mid-July. After not allowing a home run in his first 391Ú3 innings of the season, the right-hander allowed three home runs in two consecutive outings. Entering the weekend, Clippard had a 7.88 ERA and two blown saves since the All-Star break.
With the return of Drew Storen, who saved 43 games as the Nationals' closer in 2011, could Clippard lose his closing job?
It doesn't look like it. During a 162-game season, there will be a time when a closer has a couple bad outings. But the best closers bounce back quickly, and that's just what Clippard has done. Entering the weekend, he has earned three straight saves and hasn't allowed a hit in his last three innings pitched. How Clippard has responded is a good sign for the Nationals.
- Jeffrey Tomik
1 Not the same but still the best » Tigers ace Justin Verlander's most recent loss -- a 5-3 defeat to the Indians on Thursday -- showed while last year's AL Cy Young winner and MVP may not be living up to his 2011 standard, he's still the best pitcher in baseball. Thursday's loss was Verlander's 63rd straight start of at least six innings, the longest streak since Hall of Famer Steve Carlton's 69-game run for Philadelphia from 1979 to 1982. Verlander (11-6) already has more losses than last season, but he is fourth in the AL in ERA (2.60) and is second in the league with 146 strikeouts.
2 Ray of hope for Mets » After losing 11 of their first 12 games since the All-Star break, the Mets turned to a 24-year-old right-hander making his major league debut. Matt Harvey responded by holding the Diamondbacks to three hits and striking out 11 over 51Ú3 innings Thursday. He also had two hits in the Mets' 3-1 win to become the first pitcher since 1900 to strike out more than 10 batters and record a pair of hits in his first game. Harvey was the Mets' top pick in the 2010 draft. If New York can't get out of their slump, a few more prospects will get their chance, too.
3 The power of Zoltan » Earlier this month, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the Pirates were using the power of Zoltan to their unlikely success. Players have been forming "Zs" with their hands to celebrate -- an obscure tribute to the 2000 movie "Dude, Where's My Car?" Well, the power of Zoltan reached new heights when Hal Sparks, the actor who played the part of the cult figure, threw out the honorary first pitch for the Pirates on Wednesday. Whatever works. The Pirates are atop the NL wild-card standings and seem ready to end their streak of 19 straight losing seasons.
1. David Price » The Rays ace is 3-0 with a 1.27 ERA in three starts since the break.
2. Felix Hernandez » The Mariners ace has a 1.93 ERA in July and has not lost since June 12.
3. Edwin Encarnacion » The Blue Jays slugger is living up to his $27 million extension.
1. Francisco Rodriguez » The Brewers reliever blew two saves against the Phillies last week.
2. R.A. Dickey » The Mets knuckleballer has allowed four runs or more in his last four starts.
3. Carl Crawford » The Red Sox outfielder is back but is hitting .115 in his last seven games entering Saturday.