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.

MLB Notes: Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal to have Tommy John surgery

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MLB Notes: Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal to have Tommy John surgery

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Cardinals announced Wednesday that closer Trevor Rosenthal was being moved from the 10-day disabled list to the 60-day DL and that the right elbow injury would require Tommy John surgery.

"I think just the timing of it, being right in the middle of this race and the way my personal season had been taking shape and the way the team has been playing recently. Tough timing," Rosenthal said.

"It felt like we were getting in a groove, I was in a groove, and to kind of have this happen and take a piece away from a really good team is a little bit of a bummer."

Rosenthal, who recorded 93 saves in 2014-15, lost the closer's job a year ago to Seung Hwan Oh but reclaimed it this season after Oh struggled. Rosenthal recorded 11 saves, giving him 118 over the past four seasons.

Cardinals general manager Mike Girsch said Rosenthal will have surgery next week.

"We hoped for better news," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. ". Somebody is going to have to step in. He was really throwing the ball well."

Cubs: Rizzo’s eagerness to play 3B quickly wanes
CINCINNATI -- Anthony Rizzo didn't hesitate when Cubs manager Joe Maddon asked if he'd finish the game at third base, a position he'd never played at any point in his career.

Can't be that hard, right? Even if he is left-handed and would have to turn his body to throw to his normal spot at first base?

"I said `Yeah, I can play,'" Rizzo said on Wednesday . "I can field ground balls and throw. It's really as simple as you can make it."

Simple in theory. In practice, Rizzo discovered that it's a whole different world on the other side of the infield.

Just for fun, Maddon moved Rizzo to third base on Tuesday night after Kris Bryant got hit in the hand by a pitch and went for X-rays that were negative. Rizzo played his unaccustomed spot in the ninth inning and didn't get a ball hit his way as the Cubs finished off a 13-9 win over the Cincinnati Reds.

Rizzo became only the third left-handed third baseman in Cubs history. The other two were in the 1800s. Although eager for the new experience, he started having second thoughts when he actually saw Joey Votto -- the Reds' first batter of the ninth inning -- dig in at the plate.

"I was not prepared at all," Rizzo said. "I've maybe taken ground balls there once this year, just to mess around."

Tonight's lineup: Tommy Joseph remains; Pedro Florimon starts in RF

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Tonight's lineup: Tommy Joseph remains; Pedro Florimon starts in RF

With Odubel Herrera and Aaron Altherr both on the disabled list, manager Pete Mackanin continues to stick with Tommy Joseph as the Phillies' everyday first basemen.

Joseph is in the lineup batting fifth for Wednesday night's game against the Marlins, with red-hot Rhys Hoskins batting third and playing left field. Hoskins, who shares the same natural position as Joseph, has made just two starts at first since his promotion to the bigs. 

After getting the day off in the Phils' win over the Giants on Sunday, Joseph began to climb out his dreadful 5 for 56 slump in Tuesday's doubleheader with a pair of home runs and three hits overall. Meanwhile, Hoskins continued his hot streak by blasting his sixth home run and bringing his average up to .244, a far cry from his 1 for 13 start.

In right field, Pedro Florimon will make his second start since being called up from Triple A Lehigh Valley. The 30-year-old utility man is 4 for 11 with four RBIs in five game appearances with the Phils. 

Behind the plate, Jorge Alfaro gets the start over Cameron Rupp, who hit a home run in his third straight game in the Phillies' first loss on Tuesday. In 33 plate appearances, Alfaro is hitting .333/.333/.424 with one home run and three RBIs.

Here is the Phils' full lineup:
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Nick Williams, CF
4. Rhys Hoskins, LF
5. Tommy Joseph, 1B
6. Maikel Franco, 3B
7. Pedro Florimon, RF
8. Jorge Alfaro, C
9. Mark Leiter Jr., P

And for the Marlins: 
1. Dee Gordon, 2B
2. Giancarlo Stanton, RF
3. Christian Yelich, CF
4. Marcell Ozuna, LF
5. J.T. Realmuto, C
6. Derek Dietrich, 3B
7. Tomas Telis, 1B
8. Miguel Rojas, SS
9. Justin Nicolino, P

For more on tonight's game, check out Tom Dougherty's game notes.