Papelbon on 300th save: 'It means a lot to me'

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Papelbon on 300th save: 'It means a lot to me'

It was a long time between save opportunities for the Phillies’ Jonathan Papelbon. Since May 24 Papelbon really had no need to warm up for the ninth inning, since there were no games to save.

Maybe that’s why he decided to let Tuesday’s night’s chance against the San Diego Padres linger a little longer than he should have. Entering the ninth with a three-run lead, Papelbon loaded the bases with two outs before finally closing it down with a ground ball by Tommy Medica (see game recap).

No harm, no foul.

And with that tightrope act, Papelbon became the 26th pitcher in big-league history to register 300 saves. Moreover, he did it in fewer games than anyone except for Trevor Hoffman.

Fittingly, Papelbon got No. 300 against Hoffman’s former team.

Nevertheless, Papelbon’s journey to 300 saves wasn’t exactly quixotic, though it wasn’t without its detours. A starter in the minors, Papelbon successfully lobbied Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein to move him to the closer role.

Perhaps closing games is what has kept Papelbon off the disabled list for his entire 10 years in the big leagues.

“It means a lot to me, more than what most people would probably think,” Papelbon said after escaping with his 14th save of the season. “I started this a long time ago and I was supposed to be a starter. Theo Epstein wanted to make me a starter and I told him I didn’t want to be a starter. It’s been a long journey since then. I don’t know how happy he was when I told him I wanted to do that, but it’s all turned out the way I expected it and hoped it would. I got to keep working hard and keep putting in the work to stay healthy and hopefully try to get another 300 if I stay healthy.”

In Phillies history, closers have been more like Haley’s Comet than Old Faithful. Jose Mesa has the franchise record with 112 saves, notching 87 of them in his first two seasons with the team. Brad Lidge left Philly with 100 saves and 41 of them came during that magical 2008 season.

With 81 saves in a little more than two seasons and a contract that runs through 2015 with a vesting option for 2016, Papelbon could blow past Mesa’s record. Considering Papelbon’s ability to stay off the disabled list, there’s no reason why he can’t match Hoffman’s mark of 601 saves. After all, Hoffman got all but 10 of his saves in 14 of his 18 seasons and missed nearly all of the 2003 season on the disabled list.

Though Papelbon has lost a little off his fastball and he struggled in Tuesday’s game, he has converted all but one of his save chances this season. Better yet, Papelbon has posted a 1.48 ERA and has 12 1-2-3 innings in his 25 appearances.

Despite this, Papelbon’s strikeout rate is at a career low and his walk rate has doubled since last season. However, Papelbon has allowed just two extra-base hits this season and has held the opposition to a .195 batting average. Even at the start of his career when he was taking over the role as closer for the Red Sox, Papelbon only held opponents to a lower batting average just once.

So how does he stay healthy and convert saves even though his fastball isn’t as sharp?

Easy. It’s all upstairs, Papelbon said.

“It’s a mental grind and you have to stay focused the best you can,” Papelbon said. “There is no way to really duplicate a game-on-the-line type situation, but for me I just try to stay focused. It’s more mental than physical.

“That’s one of the main reasons why I decided to become a closer. I don’t know why, but I like the rollercoaster ride and it is what it is. I like coming to the yard every day knowing I have a chance to go in there or not. It’s hard to explain.”

It also helps that the closer’s role is much more refined than it once was. Papelbon, Hoffman and the all-time saves leader, Mariano Rivera, rarely pitch more than one inning. Bruce Sutter, the Hall of Fame pitcher who finished his career with 300 saves in 12 seasons, rarely worked so little. In fact, in his 661 games, Sutter pitched more than one inning 407 times.

In 1984, Sutter appeared in a career-high 71 games and pitched 122 innings. Papelbon got to 131 innings in his first 131 games with the Phillies.

For that, Papelbon gave praise to Rivera for redefining the role and allowing pitchers like himself to save more games and have longer careers.

“The closer’s role is what it is today because of Mariano Rivera. There is no other man that is solely responsible for it but him,” Papelbon said. “In my opinion, he made the role what it is today and I’ve told him many a time that he’s the godfather of all closers. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be in this type of situation today. When I was in Boston, I used to joke with him all the time. He’d come back for another year and play and it seemed like he had some kind of fountain of youth over there in Panama. He made it harder and harder for me every year. Everyone’s chasing him, so hopefully one day I can get somewhere close to him and we’ll see what happens if I can stay healthy.”

It’s worth noting that Mesa ceded the closer’s role to Mike Williams at the end of his tenure in Philadelphia. And Lidge gave way to Ryan Madson at the end of his time in town. Working on his third season, Papelbon isn’t looking over his shoulder yet.

A.J. Ellis still adjusting, learning names as he joins the Phillies

A.J. Ellis still adjusting, learning names as he joins the Phillies

NEW YORK – It wasn’t easy leaving the only professional organization he’d ever been part of, but new Phillie A.J. Ellis, acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Carlos Ruiz trade Thursday, is coming to terms with it.

“To find out that the trade went down, it was hard,” Ellis said upon reporting to his new club Saturday. “It was so immediate and sudden, really hard to say goodbye to a lot of relationships I had been blessed to forge for more than a decade.

“But the waves of emotion are getting farther and farther apart, which is a good thing.”

Ellis, 35, was drafted by the Dodgers in 2003 and rose to the majors with them in 2008. With the Phillies, he will serve a similar role to the one he played with the Dodgers – backup catcher. Ellis wasted no time getting to know the pitching staff he will now work with. He arrived at Citi Field early Saturday afternoon and caught Jake Thompson and Jerad Eickhoff in their between-starts bullpen sessions.

Ellis said “Eichorn” when referring to Eickhoff. He’s forgiven. It’s been a whirlwind week.

“See?” he said. “I’m still learning names.”

Ellis, who served as the personal catcher for Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw, was blindsided by the trade.

“When I was summoned to the ballpark, that’s never really a good thing, especially when the front office wants to meet with you as far as where you’re at with the club, you know some kind of transition is happening,” he said. “The first 12 hours were definitely the hardest.

“But to arrive here and arrive in the clubhouse, meeting the staff, I’m starting to feel re-energized, refilled with a sense of purpose as to why I’ve been placed here, and why this is where I need to be at this time. I’m excited about that.

"I know I have huge shoes to fill. Carlos Ruiz is such a fixture in the Phillies organization. The work that he’s done here behind the plate, you can’t fill. This guy is a world champion catcher who has been back there for so many great baseball memories. So it’s up to me to do my part to fill the void.”

Manager Pete Mackanin thought about putting Ellis in the lineup Saturday night then had some mercy when he figured facing hard-throwing Mets right-hander Noah Syndergaard might not be the best indoctrination for a guy who just flew cross-country. Ellis is likely to start Sunday afternoon’s series finale and catch Vince Velasquez.

That doesn’t mean he wasn’t asked to make a contribution to Saturday night’s game. Mackanin said he wanted Ellis to speak with the Phillies hitters about the weaknesses the Dodger pitchers tried to exploit.

“We talk to them about this stuff all the time, but it might help to hear it from an outside source,” Mackanin said.

Ellis left a first-place club for a rebuilding team. That’s not easy. He has come to terms with that. He likes the young talent on the Phillies’ roster and hopes to help it come to flower.

“Guys are playing for their careers,” he said. “Guys are playing to make their mark in this game and create a winning franchise once again in Philadelphia. 

"You see the talent, you see their desire to learn, their desire to get better. You just know the youth on this staff, the talent level on this staff. And if I can in some short time here impact some wisdom on those guys, share some of the wisdom along the way that I’ve picked up from some great mentors I’ve had in my time in the game, I need to pay it back, from what all has been given to me.”

Ellis hit just .197 with a .285 on-base percentage in 53 games for the Dodgers this season. That’s one of the reasons the Dodgers acquired Ruiz – to get more production from their right-handed-hitting backup catcher. Ruiz had a .369 on-base percentage at the time of the trade.

Phillies’ general manager Matt Klentak was “adamant” that Ellis come back on the deal because he wanted someone who could fill Ruiz’ void on (behind the plate) and off (with clubhouse leadership) the field. Ellis’ time with the Phillies might be short. He will be a free agent at the end of the season and his playing time might be scant as September unfolds. The Phils will probably add prospect Jorge Alfaro to the catching mix sometime during that month. Management seems eager to get a look at him while still getting No. 1 catcher Cameron Rupp the game reps he needs.

Tonight's Lineup: After hitting 6th Friday, Odubel Herrera moves up to 2-hole

Tonight's Lineup: After hitting 6th Friday, Odubel Herrera moves up to 2-hole

After watching his club get smacked around in a 9-4 loss to the Mets on Friday, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin has tinkered with his lineup for Saturday's game at Citi Field.

Odubel Herrera moves up to the two-hole after hitting sixth Friday, while Aaron Altherr goes from second to third and Jimmy Paredes gets the start in left and bats seventh. Ryan Howard starts again at first base and bats fifth.

Herrera, who has been struggling since the All-Star break with a .257 average, has lost his leadoff spot to Cesar Hernandez but is starting to find his swing again.

In the last seven days, Herrera is 5 for 17 with a double and a run scored. In August, the centerfielder is hitting .288 with two homers and five RBIs.

Altherr, who played left field Friday, moves over to right field and Peter Bourjos gets the night off. Altherr is hitting .255 with four home runs and 19 RBIs on the season.

Here is the full Phillies lineup:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Aaron Altherr, RF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Jimmy Paredes, LF
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Jeremy Hellickson, P

For more on tonight's's game, check out Steven Tydings' game notes.

Phillies option Jorge Alfaro back to Double A Reading

Phillies option Jorge Alfaro back to Double A Reading

As expected, the Phillies on Saturday optioned prized catching prospect Jorge Alfaro back to Double A Reading after a one game stint with the big club.

Alfaro was called up for Friday's series opener in New York against the Mets because newly acquired veteran backstop A.J. Ellis had yet to arrive with the team. Ellis was acquired Thursday from the Los Angeles Dodgers as part of the trade that sent Carlos Ruiz to L.A.

The 23-year-old Alfaro is expected to return to the Phillies once Reading's season is over and MLB rosters expand in September. The Fightin Phils, at 83-48, are the Eastern League's top team and very much could make it to the championship series.

Alfaro, acquired in the Cole Hamels trade last summer, has a .279 average with 13 home runs and 61 RBIs in 90 games with Reading this season. He did not get play Friday night against the Mets.