ST. LOUIS -- It was only one outing, lasting all of three batters. But it was the first time he'd retired the side in 2 12 weeks, so Tyler Clippard had plenty of reason to feel good about his performance after it was over Thursday night in Philadelphia.
"I was itching to get back out there," the Nationals reliever said. "The last few days, I've been working on some things, and I knew I was close. I wanted to get back out there, and I'm glad I got in there tonight."
Clippard hadn't pitched a clean inning since Sept. 10, following up that appearance in New York with six consecutive shaky outings, including four straight in which the right-hander surrendered a run.
During that stretch, Clippard lost his closer's job to Drew Storen, though Davey Johnson remained confident enough in him to use him in a setup role. And that's where he'll stay through the rest of the regular season and into the postseason.
"It can be like a hitter going in a little slump," Johnson explained prior to Friday night's game against the Cardinals. "Am I going to take him out of the lineup, just because he had a couple oh-fers? No. I'm the same way on relievers. I know what he can do. I'm going to ask him to do it again. He doesn't have to prove anything to me. He's been great, not just this year but last year, too. I haven't lost any confidence at all in him."
Clippard has been working with pitching coach Steve McCatty, trying to figure out what was going wrong during his rough patch. Their conclusion: Clippard wasn't locating his fastball down in the strike zone enough.
"I can look back on those outings, and they kind of come back to just one or two pitches, and most of the time they were fastballs right down the middle," he said. "And you're not going to have success, especially in fastball counts. So it's kind of just getting that confidence back, and I think Thursday night helped me do that."
Clippard isn't satisfied with the way he pitched through much of September, but at this stage of the season he's more concerned about how he'll pitch in October. And he's confident Thursday night's performance is a sign of things to come.
"I'm not too worried at this point in the season about my numbers or anything like that," he said. "I just want to get going for the playoffs, get right for that. Time it up right so I can go on a good stretch here for the last month or so of the season, for the playoffs."