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: Twins-Braves, Royals-Padres make trades

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MLB Notes: Twins-Braves, Royals-Padres make trades

MINNEAPOLIS -- Hoping to bolster their rotation for a playoff run, the Minnesota Twins have acquired veteran left-handed pitcher Jaime García, catcher Anthony Recker and cash considerations from the Atlanta Braves for minor league right-hander Huascar Ynoa.

The 31-year-old García is 66-52 with a 3.65 ERA and 808 strikeouts in 176 appearances, mostly with St. Louis (2008, 2010-16). He missed the 2009 MLB season following Tommy John surgery.

Garcia is 4-7 with a 4.30 ERA, 41 walks and 85 strikeouts in 18 starts for the Braves this year.

While Garcia's numbers don't jump off the page, the Twins were in need of a veteran arm to put into a rotation that has been largely disappointing behind the top two starters, Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios (see full story).

Royals: Cahill, Maurer, Buchter acquired from Padres
DETROIT -- The contending Kansas City Royals have acquired three pitchers from the San Diego Padres, getting starter Trevor Cahill, closer Brandon Maurer and reliever Ryan Buchter.

The Royals sent pitchers Matt Strahm and Travis Wood, minor league infielder Esteury Ruiz and cash to San Diego on Monday. The deal came one week before the nonwaiver trade deadline.

Kansas City began the day tied with Tampa Bay for the second AL wild-card spot and 1 1/2 games behind AL Central-leading Cleveland. The Royals had been looking to bolster their rotation and bullpen, and did it with one swap.

Cahill was 4-3 with a 3.69 ERA in 11 starts for the Padres. The 29-year-old right-hander was an All-Star with Oakland in 2010.

Maurer is 20-for-23 on save tries, and 1-4 with a 5.72 ERA. The 27-year-old righty began his big league career with Seattle in 2013 as a starter.

Buchter is 3-3 with one save and a 3.05 ERA in 42 games. The 30-year-old lefty pitched 67 times for the Padres last year.

Dodgers: Kershaw lost to DL with back injury
LOS ANGELES -- Clayton Kershaw is headed to the disabled list for the second straight summer because of a back injury.

A year after missing 2 1/2 months with a herniated disk in his lower back, Kershaw was pulled from a start Sunday against Atlanta because of lower back tightness. The Los Angeles Dodgers ace exited after two innings in a 5-4, 10-inning victory.

It leaves baseball's top team without its best pitcher. The Dodgers lead the majors with a 68-31 record and are atop the NL West standings by 10 games.

Kershaw was set to meet with a back specialist Sunday evening for tests, although manager Dave Roberts was already sure that Kershaw would be placed on the 10-day DL (see full story).

Mets: Wheeler put on DL because of arm trouble
NEW YORK -- The New York Mets have put pitcher Zack Wheeler on the 10-day disabled list because of a stress reaction in his right arm.

The Mets didn't provide a timetable for Wheeler's return. He was on the DL last month with biceps tendinitis and has struggled in four starts since his return.

The team recalled righty Tyler Pill from Triple-A Las Vegas before Monday night's game at San Diego.

Wheeler joins Mets starting pitchers Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey and Robert Gsellman on the disabled list. Steven Matz and Seth Lugo recently came off the DL and returned to the rotation.

The 27-year-old Wheeler didn't pitch in the majors the past two years after having Tommy John surgery in 2015. He is 3-7 with a 5.21 ERA in 17 starts.

Tonight's lineup: Nick Williams moves up to 3rd for hot-hitting Phillies

Tonight's lineup: Nick Williams moves up to 3rd for hot-hitting Phillies

The hot-hitting Phillies made some minor tweaks to their lineup for Monday's series opener against the American League-beset Houston Astros at Citizens Bank Park.

Nick Williams, Odubel Herrera and Tommy Joseph all move up in the lineup with Howie Kendrick getting the day off. Williams will hit third, Herrera moves up to fifth and Joseph will hit sixth. Andrew Knapp is catching and batting seventh. Cameron Perkins is playing left field and batting eighth.

Williams is hitting .309 with four home runs, four doubles, two triples and 15 RBIs in 19 games since being called up from Triple A Lehigh Valley on June 30. He had a two-run homer and another RBI in the Phillies' 6-3 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday afternoon.

After his 1 for 3 day with an RBI on Sunday, Herrera moves up spot. The centerfielder is hitting .331 with a major-league leading 19 doubles since June 3.

Joseph was 0 for 4 on Sunday with two strikeouts. He hit seventh against the Brewers but will hit sixth tonight.

Vince Velasquez (2-5, 5.14)  is on the mound for the Phillies. He'll be opposed by Brad Peacock (8-1, 2.49).

Here is the Phillies' full lineup:

Phillies
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Nick Williams, RF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Odubel Herrera, CF
6. Tommy Joseph, 1B
7. Andrew Knapp, C
8. Cameron Perkins, LF
9. Vince Velasquez, SP

For more on tonight's game, read Corey Seidman's game notes.