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.

Tonight's lineup: Maikel Franco, Cameron Rupp back for Phillies

Tonight's lineup: Maikel Franco, Cameron Rupp back for Phillies

Maikel Franco and Cameron Rupp are both back in the Phillies' starting lineup Monday in Miami after being hit by pitches over the weekend in Pittsburgh.

Franco was hit on the wrist and Rupp on the head. Franco hasn't started since Friday, but came in for Andres Blanco Sunday after Blanco fractured his left index finger.

Rupp was hit on the head Saturday but passes MLB's concussion protocol and is back behind the plate to catch Jeremy Hellickson in the Phillies' series opener against the Marlins.

It's a good thing for the Phils because both players have been power sources. Franco is hitting .259 with 18 homers and 53 RBIs, and Rupp is hitting .276 with 17 doubles and 10 homers. Rupp had a homer and three RBIs last Friday night in the Phillies' only win at PNC Park.

Slumping Peter Bourjos, just 4 for his last 36, moves down the eight-hole. Cesar Hernandez leads off.

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Cameron Rupp, C
6. Freddy Galvis, SS
7. Cody Asche, LF
8. Peter Bourjos, RF
9. Jeremy Hellickson, P

And for the Marlins:

1. J.T. Realmuto, C
2. Martin Prado, 3B
3. Christian Yelich, LF
4. Giancarlo Stanton, RF
5. Marcell Ozuna, CF
6. Derek Dietrich, 2B
7. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS
8. Don Kelly, 1B
9. Jarred Cosart, P

Cubs acquire closer Aroldis Chapman from Yankees

Cubs acquire closer Aroldis Chapman from Yankees

CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs acquired hard-throwing reliever Aroldis Chapman in a trade with the New York Yankees on Monday, giving the NL Central leaders a boost as they try for their first World Series title in more than a century.

The Cubs paid a steep price, parting with top shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres and versatile pitcher Adam Warren in the four-player package going to the Yankees. Chapman faced a domestic violence allegation in the offseason that cost him a 29-game suspension, and the left-hander is eligible for free agency after this year.

But there is no doubting the talent of the 28-year-old Chapman, who went 3-0 with a 2.01 ERA and 20 saves in 31 games with New York. He threw a 105.1 mph fastball to Baltimore's J.J. Hardy last Monday night, matching the fastest since Major League Baseball began tracking speeds in 2008.

With lefty-batting sluggers Bryce Harper of Washington and Brandon Belt of San Francisco possibly looming in the playoffs, the addition of Chapman gives manager Joe Maddon one of the majors' top assets when in need of a late strikeout.

New York had won six of eight heading into Monday night's game at Houston, but it still faces long odds of getting to the playoffs. All-Stars Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances are still at the back of the bullpen, allowing the Yankees to trade Chapman now and still consider trying for the postseason depending on how they fare ahead of the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline.

The Yankees made the decision to trade Chapman after his agents said he would not agree to a new contract that would start in 2017, a person familiar with the talks said. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because no public statement on those talks was authorized.

If New York slips back any further, it could engage in a rare sell-off for the franchise. Miller, who is signed through 2018, also could be traded. Outfielder Carlos Beltran, first baseman Mark Teixeira and pitcher Ivan Nova are eligible for free agency after the season and could be sought by contenders.

Chapman quickly turned into one of baseball's most dominant relievers when he broke into the majors in 2010 with Cincinnati. He threw the 62 fastest pitches in the major leagues last season, ranging from 103.92 to 102.36 mph.

Chapman saved 146 games with a 2.17 ERA in six years with the Reds before he was traded to New York last December after a deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers fell through when it was learned Florida police investigated an accusation of domestic violence involving the Cuban pitcher.

Prosecutors declined to file charges, citing conflicting accounts, and Chapman was suspended for the first 29 games of the season, losing $1,856,557 of his $11,325,000 salary. He was the first player penalized a finite number of games under Major League Baseball's domestic violence policy.

"I regret that I did not exercise better judgment and for that I am truly sorry," Chapman said in a team statement Monday. "Looking back, I feel I have learned from this matter and have grown as a person. My girlfriend and I have worked hard to strengthen our relationship, to raise our daughter together, and would appreciate the opportunity to move forward without revisiting an event we consider part of our past."

Chapman and Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo also got into a heated argument in the ninth inning of a July 2014 game, but Rizzo said last month he was fine with the idea of acquiring the reliever.

The Yankees also received minor league outfielders Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford in the trade for Chapman. McKinney, a first-round pick in the 2013 draft, was acquired along with All-Star shortstop Addison Russell in the 2014 deal that sent pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland.

Warren was drafted by New York and made his major league debut with the Yankees in 2012. He was traded to Chicago in the December deal that moved infielder Starlin Castro from the Cubs to the Yankees.

Phillies call up Taylor Featherston to replace injured Andres Blanco

Phillies call up Taylor Featherston to replace injured Andres Blanco

After quietly producing at the plate and in the field for four months at Triple A, infielder Taylor Featherston was called up to the majors by the Phillies on Monday. He'll replace Andres Blanco, who was placed on the 15-day DL with a fractured left index finger suffered Sunday.

Featherson, 26, is not a prospect. He's a slick-fielding utility infielder the Phillies acquired from the Angels in exchange for cash on Feb. 10. After hitting .162 in 101 games with the Halos last season, Featherston hit .264/.320/.446 with 20 doubles, four triples, 12 homers and 32 RBIs in 385 plate appearances for the IronPigs this season. 

Featherston, a right-handed hitter, can play every infield position except catcher, though the bulk of his professional time has come up at second base. 

Blanco was injured when he was spiked on the hand by Pirates rightfielder Gregory Polanco on a play at third base Sunday. It's a tough loss for the Phils — Blanco is a key figure on the Phillies' bench and in the clubhouse. A journeyman before he arrived in Philadelphia in 2014, Blanco has hit .283 with an .817 OPS in 206 games with the Phils. He has 40 doubles and 12 home runs in those 482 plate appearances.

Altherr moves up
Outfielder Aaron Altherr, out since spring training with a wrist fracture, moved from Double A Reading to Triple A Lehigh Valley on his rehab assignment. The Phillies have until Wednesday to decide whether to call up Altherr or option him to Triple A. It's likely they'll bring him up and play him regularly in right field, which was the plan for this season before he was injured on a diving catch attempt early in camp.

Stumpf returns to Royals
Left-handed reliever Daniel Stumpf cleared waivers and was returned to the Kansas City Royals on Monday. Stumpf was selected by the Phillies in the second round of the Rule 5 draft this past winter. He was designated for assignment on July 22 and the Phils offered him back to the Royals at half-price. They accepted and sent him to Triple A Omaha.

Stumpf didn't have much of a Phillies career. He was busted for PEDs in early April and ended up allowing six runs in five innings for a 10.80 ERA.