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Clippard gets his chance to close

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Clippard gets his chance to close

PHILADELPHIA -- Rarely does Tyler Clippard get the opportunity to watch the Nationals celebrate a victory in person, let alone be at the center of such a celebration on the field. Such is life for a setup man, who upon handing over the game to his closer heads down the dugout tunnel to ice his arm and watch the ninth inning on TV.

"Usually when I pitch the eighth, I just come to the clubhouse and we just do this," Clippard said, making a high-five motion to no one in particular. "It's a lot more fun out on the field."

Something the Nationals reliever finally got to experience last night. Summoned by manager Davey Johnson to pitch the ninth inning with a three-run lead, Clippard made quick work of the Phillies and then got to receive high-fives from everyone on the Nationals' roster following the 5-2 victory.

Might we see this scene play out more moving forward? Earlier in the day, Clippard made an impassioned case for himself as the Nationals' new fill-in closer, now that Henry Rodriguez flamed out and Drew Storen and Brad Lidge continue to recover from injuries.

"I want it bad," he said. "I've been fighting for the opportunity for three years now. I feel like I've been over-stepped a few times along the way for the opportunity to get those saves, for whatever reason. I don't really know. But they have a plan, and I trust their plan. We've had a good year this year and we've been winning. You can't really go against the grain as far that stuff is concerned. But, yeah, I would love an opportunity."

Clippard is hardly a selfish player. He's been the consummate team-first guy over the last three seasons, throwing more innings than any other reliever in the majors, many of them coming at critical points in a game with runners in scoring position and the opponent's best hitters at the plate.

And he'll be the first to tell you that Storen (his good friend and roommate) deserves to reassume his closer's job once he returns from elbow surgery in early July.

But after putting in his time over multiple seasons, and pitching as well as any reliever in baseball, you can't fault Clippard for wanting to ascend to the highest-profile role there is out of the bullpen.

"If you're a bullpen guy in the big leagues, in my opinion, you want to be a closer," he said. "That's the premier job as a bullpen guy. If you're not going to be a starter, you might as well want to do that. There's no secret. It's the kind of natural progression of anybody's career. You want to be the best at what you do. In my opinion, the guys who are the best at what they do in the bullpen usually get closer's jobs. That's what you want to do."

So, is Clippard the Nationals' new closer? The way Johnson describes the situation, it doesn't sound that way. The veteran manager said he plans to use a closer-by-committee for now, picking the right pitcher for the situation on each given night.

That could be Sean Burnett. That could be Craig Stammen. That could be Clippard.

For at least one night, though, Clippard got to savor the experience of pitching the ninth inning on the road with his team holding a slim lead. It felt different than what he's become accustomed to the last three years. And it felt good.

"A lot more adrenaline, a lot more nervousness," he said. "But it was a good feeling. I havent had that for a while, so it was a lot of fun tonight.

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Nationals offense provides no support in Strasburg's return

Nationals offense provides no support in Strasburg's return

SAN DIEGO -- Yangervis Solarte hit a two-run home run off Stephen Strasburg in the first inning of the right-hander's first start in almost a month and the San Diego Padres beat the Washington Nationals 3-1 Saturday night.

Strasburg (10-4) retired the first two batters he faced before allowing a single to Jose Pirela and then the homer to the switch-hitting Solarte, who drove a 96-mph fastball to right for his 13th.

Strasburg then settled down against his hometown team, retiring 10 straight batters and 13 of 14. He went six innings, allowing two runs and four hits while striking out eight and walking one.

He hadn't pitched since July 23, when he went only two innings at Arizona. He went on the disabled list with an elbow nerve impingement.

Strasburg pitched at West Hills High in suburban Santee and then at San Diego State for coach Tony Gwynn before going to the Nationals with the No. 1 pick overall in the 2009 draft.

While Strasburg pitched well, the Nationals had only three hits.

San Diego's Travis Wood (2-1) also settled down after laboring through the first inning, when he threw 35 pitches but didn't allow a run. He was unscathed until the fifth, when he allowed a one-out single to Jose Lobaton and a two-out double to Adrian Sanchez. The run was unearned because of Woods' throwing error on Strasburg's sacrifice bunt that advanced Lobaton.

Wood allowed just the unearned run on three hits in seven innings, with two strikeouts and two walks.

Brad Hand pitched the ninth for his 11th save.

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Matt Grace, Howie Kendrick lead Nationals past San Diego Padres

Matt Grace, Howie Kendrick lead Nationals past San Diego Padres

SAN DIEGO -- Matt Grace pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings in place of injured Max Scherzer and Howie Kendrick hit a leadoff homer and drove in two runs to help the Washington Nationals beat the San Diego Padres 7-1 on Friday night.

Scherzer was scratched from his scheduled start and placed on the 10-day disabled list with a sore neck. Grace and five relievers held San Diego to four hits.

Grace, who grew up in the Los Angeles area and pitched at UCLA, made his first big league start and his first start since 2012 when he was with Single-A Potomac. It was his 61st big league appearance.

The left-hander allowed two hits, struck out one and walked one. He retired Cory Spangenberg on a grounder to open the fifth and manager Dusty Baker came out to get him after 52 pitches.

Shawn Kelley came on and with one out allowed Dusty Coleman's solo homer into the second deck in left field, his fourth.

Joe Blanton (2-2) pitched a scoreless sixth for the win.

Kendrick homered to left on the third pitch from Luis Perdomo, his sixth leadoff shot this season and seventh homer overall. Kendrick also hit an RBI single with no outs in the seventh to chase Perdomo and give the Nationals a 5-1 lead. Pinch-hitter Alejandro De Aza hit a sacrifice fly one batter earlier.

Adam Lind hit an RBI single in the sixth.

Washington's Michael A. Taylor robbed Yangervis Solarte of a home run with a perfectly timed leap to catch the ball above the 396 sign in center field leading off the second, and right fielder Andrew Stevenson made a nice running catch of Wil Myers' fly ball with a runner on third to end the fourth.

Perdomo (6-8) allowed five runs, three earned, and six hits while striking out five and walking three.