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Storen, Clippard will share Nats closing duties

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Storen, Clippard will share Nats closing duties

Tyler Clippard has been the Nationals' closer since May 22, and during that time he's been one of the most effective closers in baseball, converting 32 of 35 save opportunities and holding opponents to a .179 batting average.

Drew Storen, however, was supposed to be the Nationals' closer this season until an elbow injury required surgery and landed him on the disabled list for 3 12 months. Even upon Storen's return to the active roster in July, manager Davey Johnson decided to stick with Clippard as his ninth-inning reliever based both on his performance and the fact Storen still needed to work himself back into peak form.

Well, Storen has finally gotten himself back into peak form -- witness last night's dominating, three-strikeout save against the Dodgers -- and so Johnson is ready to make a change to the back end of his bullpen two weeks before the Nationals make their postseason debut.

The change: Clippard and Storen will share closing duties, effective immediately.

"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."

It's a bit of an unconventional move to make at this late stage of the season, but Johnson believes both right-handers are up to the challenge because of their histories pitching both in setup and closing roles.

Clippard's recent hiccup -- he's allowed six runs and 11 hits over his last 6 23 innings -- may have contributed as well, though Johnson framed his decision as having more to do with Storen's recent success. The 25-year-old has been scored upon only once in his last 17 appearances, punctuated by last night's three-strikeout save against Los Angeles to clinch the Nationals' first-ever playoff berth.

The way he pitched during that game, did Storen look like he could close against any lineup in baseball?

"There's no question," Johnson said. "There's no question. I think he's kind of an emotional closer. The situation gets him amped. And he likes to pitch amped."

Johnson said several factors will determine which pitcher he uses in save situations moving forward. If the opposition has several right-handed hitters due up, he's more likely to call upon Storen. If the opposition has several left-handed hitters due up, he's more likely to summon Clippard. He'll also factor in recent usage, not wanting to overwork either pitcher.

"I'm not just going to rearrange the whole bullpen," Johnson said. "They're still my late-inning guys, and both of them are great closers. I'll mix and match. ... All those things are going to come into my decision. And when I bring the guy into the ninth, you'll know who I'm using to close. It's kind of simple."

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Five things to know about new Nationals prospect Tanner Rainey

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Five things to know about new Nationals prospect Tanner Rainey

In what may be a Major League Baseball first, two players named Tanner R. were traded for each other Wednesday at the Winter Meetings.

It’s a fun (unconfirmed) fact, but what really makes it interesting for Nationals fans is the fact that one of the Tanners’ last name is Roark, which means Washington now has a hole to fill in their rotation. They’ve already added Patrick Corbin, but expect the team to search for other options now.

Roark had been a staple in the Nats rotation for the last few years, and often provided a steadying presence at the back end of the rotation. He was never as talented or awe-inspiring as Max Scherzer or Stephen Strasburg, but he never needed to be.

Let’s focus on the newest addition to the organization though: the one named Rainey.

Here are five things to know about Tanner Rainey.

1. He went to two small schools, but still has pedigree

Rainey was born in Louisiana, and played collegiate ball at Southeastern Louisiana University and the University of West Alabama.

He was both a first baseman and a pitcher, but was drafted as a pitcher in the second round of the 2015 MLB Draft by the Cincinnati Reds.

2.  His career got off on the wrong foot

Rainey made his Major League debut in April 2018, and it could have gone better. He allowed a grand slam to Scott Kingery of the Phillies, and he finished the season with a 24.43 ERA.

Of course, the caveat is sample size. He pitched just seven innings at the big league level in 2018, and while he struck out an impressive seven batters in those innings, his WAR was -1.0.

3. He was born on Christmas Day

This, of course, allows for many fun puns, especially considering he once played for the Reds. Rudolph The Red(s)-Nosed Rainey-deer? Okay, we’ll try to come up with something better.

The Christmas Day he was born on was in 1992, so he’ll be 26 in a few weeks. It’s a little old for someone without much Major League experience, but he’s got some arm talent, and relievers regularly develop into reliable options later in their careers.

4. He has an electric arm

Rainey may struggle with command at this point in his career, but he can really whip a fastball.

While we live in the era of velocity and relievers boasting ridiculous radar gun totals seemingly every day, it’s interesting to note that 100 mph is still an impressive mark to reach. As Simon mentions, only 36 pitchers hit triple digits in 2018, and Rainey was one of them. That’s something any bullpen can use.

When taking a chance on unproven minor leaguers, you might as well take a chance on somebody with a very valuable, very elite skill.

5. He may never end up working out, but that doesn't mean it was a bad trade if he doesn't

Most minor leaguers don’t pan out. The fact that Rainey has thrown a pitch in the Majors makes his career more impressive than millions of players before him. He was ranked in the top 30 (no. 23 to be exact) of the Reds’ prospects according to MLB Pipeline, so he’s clearly talented enough for the Nats to think they can tap into his potential.

If it doesn't happen, however, losing Roark won’t be the difference for this roster in competing or not. With the rotation they have, even as top-heavy as it looks, they can certainly still compete in the division, and if it works out, they’ve acquired a dynamic piece for the back end of the bullpen.

You have to give up something to get something, and this trade could end up looking good for both teams down the road. If the Nats were set on moving Roark, which it appears they were, they could have done worse than a hard-throwing reliever in an era when hard-throwing relievers are more coveted than ever before.

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Scott Boras circus lights up Winter Meetings

Scott Boras circus lights up Winter Meetings

LAS VEGAS -- Scott Boras slid through a crush of media to step onto a 1630 Pelican Transport case in front of a 25-foot tall Christmas tree with 2,240 ornaments Wednesday, then stole its shine.

If that sounds silly, or over the top, or extravagant, it should. For anyone else. This is standard for Boras, agent to the stars, voluminous speaker, deliverer of ideas on how to shape the world around him.

He’s also Bryce Harper’s agent. That made Boras more in demand Wednesday than any time prior in his life. The Alex Rodriguez chase of 2000 delivered a mania of its own. But not like this. Not in the age of cell phones and social media, when passersby in Mandalay Bay stopped to ask whose skull was raised two feet above all else thanks to the boost from a hard exterior case designed to protect television equipment. Security shooed them along.

Boras touched on Harper’s status, the extension process with Anthony Rendon, how he would change the playoffs, and dropped a nurse-thermometer reference when talking about the New York Yankees. He spent more than an hour on center stage with the giant tree sparkling behind his 66-year-old head. Boras appearing after a puff of smoke or being lowered from the ceiling to his speaking spot would not have seemed out of place.

Chopping through his statements revealed little. Harper met with several teams. The Nationals are still in the mix, as much as they can be if their top offer is $300 million. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman backed away from the idea of signing Harper on Tuesday. Boras reeled him back in Wednesday. 

“When you're talking about star players, I go back to Mark Teixeira,” Boras said. “The Yankees are very adept. If they're going to do something, I think they can earnestly tell you that right now they're not doing it, and have every intention of doing something else when it's best for them to do it.

“When the nurse walks in the room with a thermometer, the issue is not what the thermometer says that day. The issue is the health of the patient when they're ready to leave the hospital. They're not ready to leave the hospital yet.”

So, there’s that.

The Nationals are not out of this. According to Mike Rizzo and Boras, anyway. Doors are open, but likely only propped by a foot, a touch of light squeezing through. Boras and Rizzo have been on-message since Nationals managing principal owner Mark Lerner suggested last week Harper’s future lay elsewhere.

“I’ve heard resonance of it,” Boras told NBC Sports Washington about Lerner’s comments. “Whenever I talk to Mark or Ted Lerner or Mike Rizzo, from our standpoint, their door is very open to us and our door is very open to them. We’ve always had a great working relationship, we will continue to do so and we’ll continue to have dialogue on this subject.”

Rizzo said Wednesday, like he said Tuesday, the Nationals have no scheduled meeting with Harper while in his hometown. He gave a quick summary of why Wednesday from a posh, bright white suite near the top of the Delano hotel.

“We know Bryce better than anyone in this building,” Rizzo said. 

And Boras knows them equally well. 

“The Lerners and Bryce are both collectively going to do what’s best for them,” Boras told NBC Sports Washington. “I think going into this situation in D.C. whether it be Max [Scherzer] or [Stephen Strasburg] or even the draft picks themselves, we’ve had very productive results and the franchise has grown dramatically. They’re a multi-billion dollar franchise. Their attendance has gone up from way back when they started in the early 2010s. The winning has been great. I’m sure they want to get to the higher levels. But for franchises that hope to aspire to where they are, I think it’s all gone positively. It’s been a great working relationship with the Lerner family and the Nationals and Mike Rizzo. For those reasons we just continue to talk and see where we can go.”

Boras was at Nationals Park for Harper’s last home game, an attempt at final resonance struck down by rain. Harper took the uncommon action of coming to work early that day. He pulled on his Nationals jersey long before anyone else in the clubhouse was dressed. Most days, he moved about in a sleeveless gray sweatshirt with his “BH” logo in red across the front. Not that day. He knew it could be the end. So did Boras.

Harper’s long-anticipated move into free agency followed, becoming the rarest of experiences in his life: something new. Harper has managed media and fame from the time he was 16 years old. His laps around the baseball world finished early. However, he’s never been through this. Harper doesn’t know -- yet -- where he will play next year. He has to discuss it with his wife, Kayla, and his father, Ron. So many factors abound when making what could be a decade-long decision.

“I think when you’re in Bryce’s shoes, you have no way of really knowing how this is going to turn out,” Boras told me. “He has great regard for the organization, Washington fans, his teammates. There is certainly a potential where that [final] day could come. It could be his last day wearing that [Nationals] uniform. And there’s potential where it could go on for the eternity of his career.” 

Boras finished his day by swashbuckling through a series of individual interviews. He compared his hotel room to Penn Station, satiated a gaggle of foreign press members, then rolled into the late afternoon dusk. Once he was gone, the tree resumed its station as the hall’s brightest light.

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