Posted on July 27, 2016 by Bryan Zarpentine
After two poor outings in a row from closer Jonathan Papelbon, both of which resulted in losses, the Washington Nationals are mulling over the possibility of removing Papelbon from his post. On Sunday, Papelbon gave up four runs in .2 innings against the San Diego Padres after entering with the game tied. On Tuesday, Paplebon was handed a two-run lead in the 9th, only to be charged with three runs (two earned) without recording an out in a loss to the Cleveland Indians. Those two games are enough to make the Nationals question whether Papelbon can be their closer down the stretch.
“It’s too soon after,” Washington manager Dusty Baker said after Tuesday’s game when asked about the possibility of taking the closer’s role away from Papelbon. “I mean, that’s his job. That’s what he’s getting paid for. I don’t know. We just have to go back to the drawing board. It’s too early to say after the game.”
Baker isn’t yet committed to making a change at closer, but he’s clearly concerned about both the performance and results coming from Papelbon lately. “He doesn’t have his command, which is evident when you walk the leadoff hitter,” Baker said. “But it’s like, what do you say? How does he look? Right now he doesn’t look like Pap. He doesn’t look very good. Usually he doesn’t walk people like that.”
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With his back-to-back poor performances, Papelbon’s ERA on the season jumped from 2.56 to 4.18. His ERA in nine appearances during the month of July is 7.04. Compared to other closers, his strikeout rate and batting average against are among the worst in baseball. Despite all that, Papelbon’s belief in himself has not wavered. “My confidence in this game has never fluctuated, and it never will,” he said after Tuesday’s game. “I think that’s something that’s never really happened to me.”
Papelbon’s struggles have continued immediately after the Nationals missed out on the chance to acquire Aroldis Chapman, who was traded to the Cubs. The Nationals were reportedly pushing hard to get Chapman, but couldn’t produce a package as appealing as the one the Yankees received from the Cubs. Baker acknowledged that not getting Chapman was “disappointing.”
The Nationals will now turn their attention to some of the other relief pitchers that may be available via trade with less than a week before the trade deadline. The team is reportedly looking at David Robertson, Andrew Miller, and Wade Davis, among others. However, it’s unclear whether Miller and Davis will actually end up being traded. Moreover, based on what the Yankees received for Chapman, the cost of Robertson, Miller, or Davis could be even higher, as all three are under team control beyond this season. Washington may have to part with some of their most valued prospects, something they’re reluctant to do, to make a trade happen for one of the top relievers available.
Meanwhile, the Nationals have to figure out how they’ll proceed with Papelbon, at least for the immediate future until it’s clear whether or not they can trade for a closer. Papelbon’s confidence may not be shaken, but Baker’s confidence in him certainly is. Whether or not Papelbon will be on the mound the next time the Nationals try to close out a game in the 9th inning remains to be seen, putting a tremendous amount of pressure on them to trade for a reliever before the deadline. If the Nationals can’t improve the bullpen from the outside, they could be in trouble heading down the stretch.