MESA, Ariz. –- Tyler Clippard insists it doesn’t matter to him what role he serves in the A’s bullpen.
Besides, the righty reliever is busy enough right now getting to know a new cast of teammates after spending the past seven seasons with the Washington Nationals.
“It’s like going to school for the first time at 30 years old,” Clippard said Thursday.
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In the eyes of many, Clippard’s bullpen role is one thing that isn’t a great mystery. With Sean Doolittle expected to miss the start of the regular season with a shoulder injury, Clippard seems like the logical choice to handle the ninth inning on a temporary basis. He’s been dominant the past several years as a setup man in the National League, and given the chance to sub in for injured Nationals closer Drew Storen in 2012, Clippard notched 32 saves.
But A’s manager Bob Melvin was quick to caution that he won’t anoint anyone his closer just as spring training is starting.
“We actually have several guys that have closed,” Melvin said. “I’m not going to say right now that he’s the closer, just like I’m not gonna sit here and tell you who the Opening Day starter is either. We’ve got to have something to talk about this spring.”
“I’m just going to get my arm ready, face some live hitting, get acclimated to my teammates, and move on into the season,” Clippard said, “and whatever role they want me to do I will do whole-heartedly and embrace. I think any good bullpen in the big leagues has multiple guys that can close games, and I think we have that here.”
The A’s acquired perhaps the game’s most durable reliever when they got Clippard from the Nationals for shortstop Yunel Escobar on Jan. 14. His 371 appearances since 2010 are the most in the majors. He also leads Major League relievers in innings pitched during that span (393 1/3), he’s tied with Matt Belisle for the lead in wins (29) and ranks second to Craig Kimbrel in strikeouts (455).
A somewhat unorthodox delivery adds some deception for hitters.
“I think facing me for the first time can be difficult,” he said without a trace of arrogance.
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But Clippard, who was born in Kentucky and makes his home in Clearwater, Fla., attributes his durability to the work he puts in during the offseason.
“I’ve been blessed with some good genetics,” he said. “I’m a very flexible guy, I think that helps almost to a fault. And I take pride in my offseason program.”
Aside from Clippard, the logical options for Melvin to call on in save situations are Ryan Cook, lefty Eric O’Flaherty (who should be stronger in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery) and Dan Otero, who drew ninth-inning duty in a pinch last season.
Clippard didn’t know many A’s players upon arriving at camp, but he said he’s admired the team’s playing style from afar.
“They seem like a hard-nosed group of guys that like to have fun and play the game hard,” he said. “That fits my personality. I’m very laid back and I like to have fun. But when I lace them up and get between the lines, I’m a hard-nosed guy, so I think it’ll be a good fit for me.”