Mr. Sunshine: Papelbon ready to be positive influence

Mr. Sunshine: Papelbon ready to be positive influence
February 17, 2014, 6:00 pm

Jonathan Papelbon had an 81 percent save rate in 2013, the lowest of his career. (AP)

Will Jonathan Papelbon bounce back this season?

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Outspoken Jonathan Papelbon held court with reporters Monday afternoon at Phillies camp.

The prickly closer promised to have a more upbeat attitude this season and be more of a leader.

Wait?

Didn’t he say the same thing last spring training?

He certainly talked about being a better leader a year ago, only to eventually sound like a man who was bailing on his teammates when he said, “I didn’t come here for this,” when tough times hit the team.

So why should anyone believe him about being a better leader now?

“Because I think we have different personnel in place,” Papelbon said. “I think we have a whole new team, a whole new group of guys, a new manager, new guys in the bullpen. It’s different.”

Papelbon spoke for about 20 minutes under the warm Florida sun. He acknowledged that the losing brought him down last season. He admitted that he was “a little nicked up” with a sore hip last season. He didn’t dispute that he lost velocity on his fastball and sounded confident that it would come back, especially if he’s bathing in the adrenaline that comes with pitching in meaningful games.

The one constant in Papelbon’s commentary was that he’s excited about the freshness that Ryne Sandberg brings to the team. Sandberg took over for Charlie Manuel last August. Manuel, who had been on the job for 8 1/2 seasons, was the subject of some implied criticism from Papelbon.

“This year, I'm definitely trying to be a lot more of a positive influence and be more upbeat,” Papelbon said. “It starts from Ryno. It starts from our manager encouraging us to stay positive and be upbeat even though the last two seasons didn't go as expected for myself and the rest of the guys in that clubhouse.

“This spring training is a big, big difference from the last two -- even just in the first few days. There is a lot more upbeat positivity. It's night and day, it really is.

“Every morning we have a meeting and Ryno talks about energy and spark. Bringing it every day. Last year and the year previous, we didn't have that.”

Papelbon said his promises to be more upbeat this season were not the result of someone in the organization speaking with him.

“It’s just something that I decided to do because that’s what our manager’s come in here doing,” he said. “It’s that simple.”

Papelbon has bought into Brother Ryno’s Salvation Crusade.

“Yeah, buying in, man,” Papelbon said. “Like every morning we have a meeting with Ryno and we talk about things. If you can’t buy into your manager, you’re not going to buy into anything.”

This raised the obvious question: Did Papelbon not buy into what Manuel preached?

“Well, you know, I think, um, when Charlie was here, there was already a set environment,” Papelbon said. “There was already a set way of doing things. And they were winning. They were winning, then all of a sudden it hits rock bottom. Literally within a year you start losing. So I think that just took on a whole life of its own. Not that I didn’t buy into it. I bought right in. But two years you lose ...

“As an athlete, we come out here and prepare and put so much hard work into it. When it doesn't pay off, it's a hard thing to deal with.”

It should be noted that Papelbon contributed to that losing. His save percentage was 81 percent, lowest of his career. That ranked 29th among the 32 closers who had 20 or more save opportunities last year.

Though Papelbon said he would be more upbeat in 2014, he will still speak up if he sees something he doesn’t like. That’s just him. He’s an emotional guy.

“For me, I didn't come here to lose,” he said, repeating his words of last summer. “I came here to win. I came here to win a World Championship. I don't take losing very well.

“The one thing I can say that does upset me is a lot of [reporters] took that [comment] as I'm a bad teammate, which is definitely not true. I'd break my back for my teammates. I'd do anything. They're my brothers. I'm with them more than my family. I live and die for my teammates.”

Papelbon is in camp because the Phillies could not find a taker for him in a trade this winter. His poor performance in 2013 and the $26 million that he is owed through 2015 were impediments to a deal.

Does Papelbon feel slighted by management’s attempts to trade him?

“I didn’t even know about it, to be totally honest,” he said. “That goes on every year. I understand this game is a business. I don’t pay attention to it.

“Like I said, I’m really excited about this year and I know a lot of guys have a chip on their shoulders. I’m speaking for myself and what I’ve seen. I like that. I like when the caliber athletes we have are put up against a wall. I like our chances of responding to that.”