CHICAGO -- One of the highest compliments Joe Torre gives a young pitcher is to say that he competes, loosely translating to the realization that someone's young arm can help the Yankees win games. With four starts worth of big-league service under his belt, Tyler Clippard has earned those raves. "He's not afraid of what's going to happen," Torre said after Tuesday's 7-3 victory over the White Sox. "That's the body language I get from him. He's not overpowering, but he mixes it up enough. He continues to compete, and he's got determination."
Clippard is also quickly building up his arsenal of experiences, polishing off his third win on Tuesday with five solid innings of work at U.S. Cellular Field. "I feel like I belong," Clippard said, "and I think that's an important thing to have." The 22-year-old right-hander had made things look so tantalizingly easy in his big-league debut, strutting onto a national stage and whizzing balls past the Mets, even punctuating his arrival with a well-struck double to the wall at Shea Stadium. But Clippard's next two starts brought his sky-high expectations back to earth a bit, as he struggled along against the Angels and Blue Jays. Without a third pitch -- his plus changeup -- at its best, Clippard learned the important lesson that two pitches aren't enough to navigate a big-league lineup with ease. "This level is way different than any other level I've played at, as far as the caliber of players and all that stuff," Clippard said. "This year, even at Triple-A, I got off to a slow start. It took me a while to adapt to Double-A [in 2006], but this year, I've learned how to adapt a little quicker. I think I took that up here." Watching video from his May 30 Toronto start yielded clues for Clippard, a ninth-round selection of the Yankees back in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft, and unlocked the keys to his one-run, five-inning effort against the White Sox. Having the changeup on Tuesday helped, as did pitching off his curveball a little more. Even with four strikeouts, a tally of three walks were too much for his liking, something Clippard said he'd aim to cut back on next time around. "Every start is obviously a learning process, and I'm learning new things every time out there," Clippard said. "But I feel like the adaptation process is coming along pretty well." Catcher Jorge Posada said his goal was to keep a little bit of a lower target for Clippard, and the right-hander hit his spot more times than not, whipping the ball in with a motion that won't soon appear in any how-to manual. "He's got a little bit of a different delivery," Posada said. "He does a lot of things on the mound. It's a weird delivery. His hand goes up forward and he leans a little bit backward. He's got a good changeup and he stays away, but I think his delivery is a little awkward." Part of competing, as Torre's linguistics go, is digging in and stifling damage. Clippard did that for the most part over his five frames, stranding runners in scoring position in three innings and allowing just a run-scoring hit to Rob Mackowiak in the fourth. Clippard had Jermaine Dye hit into a double play to end the first, got Alex Cintron to pop out to end the second, and limited damage in the fourth by getting Juan Uribe to sky to center. Clippard's last pitch was rolled by Dye to Alex Rodriguez at third base, leaving two aboard. "He bears down," Posada said. "That's a good thing to see. When a kid does that, it's half the battle." Clippard was an afterthought in Spring Training, thought of as an asset to keep around the clubhouse for some seasoning and use much later. Plans change, though. As Carl Pavano spent the morning in New York finally undergoing the Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery he'd insisted was necessary, and big-ticket import Kei Igawa occupied himself along with the rest of the Yankees' Triple-A roster, it was the lanky, baby-faced Clippard lacing up a pair of sneakers and analyzing his most recent performance. Eighty-nine pitches were too many for the first five innings, and though he felt he would have been able to work in the sixth inning, a four-run Yankees rally in the top of the inning prompted Torre to end the rookie's night. But later, with his third big-league victory tucked in the back pocket of his tattered jeans, Clippard prepared to walk into the Chicago darkness, calling his evening just another learning experience. "It's not going to be perfect every time out, but I think it's just a matter of establishing myself here," Clippard said. "Later on in the year, when I'm one of the guys, maybe they'll rely on me a little bit more. Right now, I'm just trying to contribute."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.