Why mess with what’s working? Tyler Clippard is 32-for-35 saving games since taking over as the Nationals’ closer in late May. However, manager Davey Johnson announced Friday that he’d have Clippard and Drew Storen share save opportunities going forward.
“The fact is, I told [pitching coach Steve McCatty] that I have confidence in both of them closing,” Johnson said. “And depending on the rest situation, or depending on what I think is the matchup, either one of them could be going eighth, the other one going ninth.”
Storen saved 43 games for the Nationals last year and was slated to keep the job this season, but he missed the first half because of elbow problems. Since returning on July 19, he has a 2.59 ERA in 24 1/3 innings. He picked up his third save in three opportunities on Thursday.
Clippard, meanwhile, has struggled some of late, giving up runs in four of his last seven appearances. He hasn’t taken any blown saves during that span, but he has lost twice. His season ERA stands at 3.22.
Given than Storen and Clippard are both right-handers and there’s no platoon advantage to be gained by playing matchups, sticking with the status quo would seem to make sense here. Alternatively, if they think Storen is the better bet of the two, just make him the closer. It’s probably better that both pitchers actually know their roles than that they spend the sixth and seventh innings wondering who is going to get the call first.
The Yankees and Astros are set for Game 7 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday, and neither team will hold back as they seek a World Series berth. The Astros are prepared to back starter Charlie Morton with any able-bodied pitcher in their ranks — including Justin Verlander, though A.J. Hinch said it would be a “dream scenario” to get anything more from his ace — while the Yankees are prepared to utilize all but a few of their arms. One pitcher you won’t see? Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who last took the hill for the Yankees during their Game 5 shutout on Wednesday.
Tanaka expended 103 pitches over seven scoreless innings in his last start, fending off the Astros with three hits, a walk and eight strikeouts. He hasn’t pitched on fewer than three days of rest all year, and even with a do-or-die scenario facing the Yankees on Saturday night, manager Joe Girardi doesn’t want to compromise his starter’s ability to stay rested and ready for the World Series.
Girardi will also play it safe with fellow right-hander Sonny Gray, who dominated in a five-inning performance in Game 4. All other pitchers should be available and ready to go, though the club is hoping for a lengthy outing from veteran starter CC Sabathia. Sabathia is no stranger to the postseason: over eight separate playoff runs, he touts one championship title and a collective 4.24 ERA in 123 innings. He held the Astros scoreless in his Game 3 start, blanking them over six innings on three hits, four walks and five strikeouts for an eventual 8-1 win.
Even without Tanaka or Gray likely to take the mound for Game 7, the Yankees will enter the series finale with history on their side. Per MLB.com, they have a 4-3 road record in Game 7s and are 6-7 in all 13 Game 7 finales to date. The Astros, on the other hand, dropped their first and only Game 7 clincher back in 2004, when the Cardinals capped the NLCS with a 5-2 win in St. Louis. The teams are scheduled to face off for the first-ever Game 7 at Minute Maid Park on Saturday at 8:00 PM ET.