Tyler Clippard is back with the Yankees after starting six games for them in 2007. He also pitched for the 2015 pennant winning Mets. After moving to the bullpen, he has been a workhorse since 2009 with Washington, Arizona and Oakland as well as the New York teams.
Clippard made his debut on a Yankee team with Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens, Jason Giambi, Hideki Matsui, Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte. He was traded to Washington and converted into a reliever. He has excelled in a role where he’s asked to pitch an inning or two instead of six or seven. He’s been a workhorse with several teams and was a hired gun for a 2015 Mets team that needed bullpen help on it’s way to the World Series. Clippard is 46-36 with 57 saves and a 2.95 ERA in his career.
We recently caught up with Clippard to answer a few questions.
NYSD: You came up 10 years ago as a starter. You went from a young guy on a veteran team, now you’re kind of the veteran on a young team. How is that change for you?
TC: Yeah, it’s completely different from when I first came up. I mean, I think when I first came up I was 22 years old and the next closest guy was 26 or 27. So, I mean, yeah, it was a super veteran laden team with just a bunch of Hall of Fame superstars. And now it’s, I am one of the veteran guys but we have a, it’s a better, not better but it’s just a more diverse kind of atmosphere in here. Which I think is kinda cool. It’s a new, young group of guys kind of trying to establish themselves, but we got a bunch of talent in here, so it’s nice to kinda be an older guy in here, and help these guys along the best I can.
NYSD: It’s nerve-wracking for anybody that comes up but what was it like when you’re with Clemens and Mussina, and Pettitte?
TC: Yeah, I was in over my head. For sure was in over my head. I had no expectations for that particular season to even get called up to the big leagues. For whatever reason I was just kind of naive and didn’t know any better, because I had just kind of done one level at a time my whole career. And that particular season I ended up getting called up in like May and, yeah, like you said, I was kinda thrust into a rotation with, you know, Clemens and Mussina and Pettitte and all of that. I’m like ‘where the heck am I right now?’ So, yeah, I was a little in over my head but I learned a lot. About myself, about pitching from those guys, and being in a clubhouse with all those Hall of Fame type players. It was such a jam packed learning curve of a few months of just being in that clubhouse. I think it really helped me for the rest of my career.
NYSD: Did you find it was tougher making it to the majors or staying?
TC: Staying. Staying. A lot of guys make it, very few guys stick. So yeah, that’s the hardest part. I mean, I tell all the young guys that come up to really keep that mind and have that mindset of ‘yeah, it’s nice to get here.’ And that happened to me. You know, I think I first came up it was like I had reached something. Or I had gotten to the top of the mountain and I took a deep breath, and that was the problem. Because once I took that deep breath, I got sent back down to Double-A. And it took me about a year-and-a-half later to kind of get back up and really solidify myself as a big league pitcher. So, I try not to let the young guys take that deep breath, and kinda keep their head down, keep their blinders on and make sure they know, yeah, it’s one thing to get here, it’s a whole another thing to stick around.
NYSD: Was it also tough going from starting to relieving or would you say it came easy?
TC: It did. It came easy for me because of my pitching style. And I was always a guy who was trying to strike guys out, and I was trying to miss barrels. I didn’t necessarily care about my pitch count because I felt like I could throw 120 pitches no problem. So I never had the mindset of trying to throw 80 pitches in eight innings. I was trying to throw 120 pitches in eight innings, and strike out 12. So my pitching style really catered to being successful out of the bullpen because I was trying to miss barrels a lot. And I wasn’t a sinker ball guy. And so all those things kind of balled up into getting thrust into the bullpen, knowing that I only had to get three to six outs instead of 27 outs. It was just the whole mindset really worked into my favor and I think that’s why I had success out of the bullpen.
NYSD: Was that an organizational thing that they recommended that to you?
TC: Yeah. It was something the Washington Nationals said that they felt like I was going to pitch better out of the bullpen. And at the time I was super against it, and really disappointed that they moved me to the bullpen. I always wanted to be a starter, I always did want to be a starter. But I’m glad they did that because I don’t think I would have the longevity that I’ve had if that decision hadn’t been made.
NYSD: Do you almost amaze yourself with how much you’ve thrown the last seven or eight years out of the bullpen and being one of the leaders?
TC: I don’t know, man. I don’t necessarily think of it. I’m not amazed, I just, you know, I’m so in tune with just day-to-day, the day-to-day process, even if the offseason and working out, just sticking to my routine, and I’ve done that. I’m very set in my ways and it’s just kind of like happened. I don’t know if that makes sense, but it’s not necessarily think too specifically about. I just kinda go along my business and next thing I know, I’ve pitched a lot in the last eight years (laughing).
NYSD: I guess you’re one of the few guys who’s also pitched on winning Yankees and Mets teams. Can you compare the two a little bit?
TC: Yeah, well my experience with the first time around on the Yankees team in ’07, I wasn’t necessarily a predominant figure amongst that team. I only had six starts. I did go 3-1, so I contributed a little bit, I guess. But the experience with the New York Mets was a little more special because we went to the World Series. They made a trade for me at the trade deadline because it was a specific need they had on their team. I felt like I filled that void for them very nicely and contributed to them in a big way, and we got to the World Series. Unfortunately we didn’t win it but it was just more of a special experience for me specifically.
NYSD: Who’s been the most amazing to watch, considering you’ve shared bullpens with Rivera and Chapman and Familia and all these guys, one after the other.
TC: That is a good question. I mean, all three, specifically those three guys, are special and fun to be around in different ways. I think, obviously, Mariano was the most special for me because he was just a cool guy to watch because of his demeanor. And it never changed no matter what. And so I really took notice of that. And I try to utilize that in my own experiences as a reliever. I didn’t know I was going to be a reliever at the time when I was watching him in ’07, but from afar it was something I always admired about him. And then being around Chapman has been really cool just from a pure physical standpoint of watching him work. His work ethic, his ability to just physically do things that you just don’t see guys be able to do. And Familia was very similar in the same ways. I think when I was in New York, I saw Familia throw a 96 mile an hour split finger fastball which, I don’t know if this is true or not, but it’s gotta be the hardest split fingered fastball in the history of baseball. This thing was just dropping off the table and he was a physical specimen himself. But the thing I was really impressed with Familia, is from afar you don’t really know what kinda guys these people are when you’re playing against them, and then when I was with him he was just such a nice guy and receptive and wanting to learn on a daily basis even though he had such dominant stuff. He was always asking questions. And when you see that, you root for guys like that because you know he’s trying to get better even though he is so good.