Tyler Clippard’s slump is coming at the right time for the Mets…
When Tyler Clippard first arrived to the Mets, he had created the sturdy bridge to Jeurys Familia the Mets badly needed in the back end of the bullpen.
He was outings over his first five weeks with the Mets were more or less automatic. He had allowed ten hits six walks and only one earned run in 19 2/3 innings over his first 20 appearances with the Mets.
But since a troubled outing against the Marlins on September 4, Clippard has hardly resembled the reliever he was throughout the month of August and what the Mets need him to be not only during the month of September, but in October as well.
He pitched a scoreless inning during Monday’s 4-0 win, his first appearance in five days after suffering a back strain.
But he struggled once again against the Braves on Tuesday, allowing two runs in the ninth inning in what ultimately resulted in a 6-2 loss.
It started with a leadoff double to Nick Swisher, which was a troubling sign to begin with considering Clippard has dominated left-handed hitting this season to the tune of a .135 average in 2015. He then retired the next two batters and it looked like the crisis would be averted, but Clippard walked Michael Bourn and Adonis Garcia – who touched Clippard for a three-run home run in Atlanta just last week – got to him again with an opposite field, two-run double.
“He’s just leaving balls in the middle of the strike zone and up, and he’s being hurt by that,” manager Terry Collins explained.
Clippard told Just Mets on Monday night he was past his back woes, and Collins reaffirmed that despite the difficult performance on Tuesday.
It isn’t the problem,” Collins said, referring to Clippard’s back. “You see the ball that Garcia hit in Atlanta. He got him into a good count and got a changeup up over the plate. The other day with the home run he left that ball right out in the middle of the plate. If he makes his pitch he may get a swing and miss. It might be ball two. But he’ll have another pitch to live by.”
Tuesday was simply an extension of a troubling trend for Clippard, who has allowed four home runs as part of 12 hits and three walks in his last 8 2/3 innings, a span of eight outings. Fortunately, the Mets have gone 5-3 in those games, but dependability has suddenly become a concern for the pending free agent reliever.
Clippard has said when he struggles, he’s usually giving up a lot of home runs. And as Collins said, the problem is fairly evident, as his change-up – his signature pitch – is not getting that good movement down. Instead, it’s staying flat in the middle of the zone and it doesn’t have that deceptiveness he normally has when he’s right.
It could simply be a slump. It could be the fact Collins was forced to go to the well with Clippard over the last six weeks thanks to a lack of quality late inning alternatives prior to the arrival of Addison Reed. Perhaps it’s both.
The good news is this is taking place at a time the Mets have the luxury of a substantial lead in the standings, and the Mets have been winning the majority of the games he struggles in anyway. For now, the Mets simply need to afford Clippard rest when possible while keeping him sharp, and simply get this change-up – which is about as good as there is in this league – back to falling off the table consistently.
Given his track record, it would be hasty to consider promoting Reed to the eighth inning role and moving Clippard down on the pecking order. Reed has certainly been lights out for the Mets since joining the club, but jumping to a quick conclusion with Clippard – when he was acquired with the assignment to get the ball to Jeurys Familia – is not necessary as long as the club remains well ahead of Washington.
Clippard is owed every opportunity to emerge from this slump, and now is the time to go through one of these funks.
On the other hand, these things have a tendency to even themselves out, and if he doesn’t emerge from this slump soon, his problems could surface in games which have slightly more significance in their standing for the season.