HOUSTON -- Nationals manager Davey Johnson said Monday he's comfortable with either Tyler Clippard or Drew Storen closing out games, but he's not worried about Clippard looking over his shoulder as last year's closer returns to form.
"I'm real confident right now in either Clip or Storen closing," Johnson said. "Clip has had the hotter hand and carried the bulk of the work, and I'm not going to take anything away from him because he's been so good."
However, Johnson said he will be reluctant to pitch Clippard in three straight games going forward, creating opportunities for Storen to get back to pitching the ninth inning, like he did when he saved 43 games last year. Sometimes, depending on the leverage of the situation or the part of the lineup due up, Johnson might send out Storen for the ninth anyway.
Despite all that, and Storen's relatively smooth return from surgery earlier this year, Johnson affirmed Tuesday that Clippard is still his closer.
"Clip knows he's done a good job. He's done a good job setting up, and he's done a good job closing," Johnson said. "Right now, he's the guy out there."
Both relievers struggled in Monday night's 5-4, 11-inning win over the Astros. Storen entered with two outs in the eighth, walked the bases loaded but eventually got out of the inning. Clippard, who has given up 10 runs while striking out 21 in 14 innings since the All-Star break, gave up the tying run but struck out three to force extra innings.
"If we have more games like last night, no telling what I'm going to do," Johnson joked.
As a whole, the Nationals bullpen has pitched 341 1/3 innings this season, second-most in the National League behind the Rockies, who are using a four-man rotation. With Storen back and the relievers getting more comfortable in their roles, Johnson thinks they're set to hold up for the long haul.
"I think they're holding up great," Johnson said. "Very durable. I don't like to use them back-to-back-to-back, but five of them have actually closed, so they're used to pitching a lot. That makes it easier. I don't like to do too much back-to-back with a lot of the guys, but they've also been used in setup roles.
"They're used to coming back on short rest. I'm not concerned about hurting them at this point."