Head-scratchers: Clippard vs. Braves, Pena vs. Nats

Before facing the Braves became an ongoing nightmare for Tyler Clippard these past two seasons, the Nationals reliever actually had a great deal of success against them. The kind of success the Washington setup man continues to have against most other teams, just not the Braves. Oh, man, not the Braves.

Clippard gave up a tying home run to Justin Upton in the eighth inning Friday, the eighth time in nine appearances that he gave up at least one run against the Braves since the beginning of the 2013 season.

The veteran right-hander was 0-3 with a 9.72 ERA and .344 opponents average in those nine appearances against the Braves, with 11 hits including four homers allowed in 8 1/3 innings.

Justin Upton follows through on his game-tying homer off Tyler Clippard on Friday.

Against every other team in that span, Clippard is 7-1 with a 1.82 ERA and microscopic .114 opponents’ average in 70 appearances, allowing just 30 hits including seven homers in 69-1/3 innings.

“Dude, he’s (good),” said second baseman Dan Uggla, who has faced Clippard more than any other Brave and gone 2-for-16 with seven strikeouts against him. “They don’t keep bringing him in in the eighth inning because, like, it’s an accident.  He’s been doing it a long time.

“We, for whatever reason, have gotten to him the last couple of years. Thank God we’ve got people in this lineup other than me who can hit a change-up.”

Before Saturday, Jason Heyward was 5-for-8 with three walks against Clippard; Freddie Freeman was 5-for-13 with a homer;  Justin Upton was 5-for-8 with two homers; Ryan Doumit and Jordan Schafer were each 2-for-5, and Evan Gattis was 1-for-2 with a homer and a walk.

“The way Justin hit that ball last night … whew, I don’t know,” Uggla said, referring to the 93-mph fastball on a 1-2 count that Upton destroyed – a line-drive over the center-field with one out and none on. “We’ve got a few guys in our lineup that make him work really hard. That work deep counts and draw walks and stay back on his change-up, and little things like that.

“The next thing you know you’ve got a couple of guys on, you’ve got something going. He’s their guy, though. They’re not going to stop bringing him in in the eighth inning. He’s proved he can get the job done.”

Gattis said he didn’t know what to make of the Braves’ success against Clippard over the past two seasons. Before 2013, Clippard had a 1.40 ERA and .147 opponents’ average in 30 appearances against the Braves, and the Nats were 21-9 in those games. Before Saturday, they are 4-5 in games he’s pitched against the Braves over the past two seasons.

“I don’t know much about that, but he’s a good pitcher,” Gattis said. “A lot of our guys don’t chase too much. CJ (Chris Johnson), you don’t see him swing at stuff up here too much, and Clippard pitches at the top of the zone a lot. Maybe we just match up good against him, I don’t know.”

 • Pena vs. Nats: The antithesis of Clippard the past two seasons has beenRamiro Pena. The utility infielder wasn’t in the Braves lineup Saturday, and it’s safe to assume the Nationals were pleased.

Otherwise known for being a typically good-glove, light-hitting utility man, Pena has been something else entirely against the Nationals in parts of two seasons since joining the Braves. His three-run homer Friday night was his third in eight games against the Nationals over two seasons, and he was 8-for-22 (.364) with seven RBIs in those eight games since April 12, 20013.

Against everyone else in that period, Pena was 18-for-74 (.243) with one homer and four RBIs in 39 games.

Friday’s homer also gave him homers in consecutive games against the Nationals. He was filling in for shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who missed two games with a jammed wrist.

Pena, 28, didn’t play in last week’s series at Washington, and he homered on June 2 against the Nationals in his final game against them in 2013. The former Yankee tore up his throwing shoulder two weeks later and had season-ending surgery.

For his career, Pena has a .321 average with three homers and eight RBIs in 11 games (28 at-bats) against the Nats, and a .238 average with three homers and 39 RBIs in 223 games (391 at-bats) against everyone else.

The Braves pinch-ran Jordan Schafer for third baseman Chris Johnson after Johnson’s two-out single in the 10th inning Friday, and Schafer scored the winning run from first on Justin Upton’s bloop single to right field. If the Braves hadn’t won it that inning, Pena would’ve shifted to third base in the bottom of the inning and Simmons would’ve entered the game at shortstop.

Simmons was back in the lineup Saturday, a day after receiving his Gold Glove and Platinum Glove awards from Rawlings signifying him as the best defensive shortstop in the NL and the best overall defensive player in the league.

 • K as in Kimbrel:  Craig Kimbrel struck out the side in the ninth inning Friday, mowing down the heart of the order – Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche, Ryan Zimmerman – to give him 61 strikeouts with eight walks and a 1.39 ERA in 33 career appearances against the Nationals. And the remarkable thing is, those aren’t especially good numbers for the Braves closer.

Consider this: In his past 125 appearances through Friday, Kimbrel had a 0.95 ERA and .139 opponents’ average, with a staggering 206 strikeouts and 27 walks in 123 1/3 innings. The Braves were 114-11 in those games and Kimbrel was 7-4 with 87 saves in 93 chances.

OK, close to game time. Let’s close with one from the greatest hard rock band there ever was or ever will be. Click here to hear this one from the mighty Led Zep.

"WE'RE GONNA GROOVE" by Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin
Hear my baby comin' down the track 
Betcha my baby's comin' back 
Someday she'll get back to me 
We're gonna raise a family 

We're gonna groove, Yeah groove 
Yeah we're gonna groove 

We're gonna love... until the break of day 

Sweet as sweet as sweet can be 
You don't know whatcha do to me 
Let me say you're my one desire 
You just set my soul on fire 

Oh we're gonna groove,Yeah groove 
Yeah we're gonna groove 
We gonna love... until the break of day 

Sweet as sweet as sweet can be 
Lemme tell ya you don't know whatcha do to me 
You just set my soul on fire 
Woman you know you're my one desire... 

We gonna groove... 

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About the Author

David O'Brien
David O'Brien
David O'Brien covered the Atlanta Braves for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for more than a decade.