Manager Ryne Sandberg and the Philadelphia Phillies are in quite the pickle with Jonathan Papelbon and the closing role for the remainder of the 2014 season.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. signed Papelbon to a four-year, $50 million contract prior to the 2012 season. It has been a roller coaster ride so far with the ego-crazed closer. Early on, he was doing well, but when the Phillies were struggling, he made his famous quote, “I definitely didn’t come here for this.”
Those words would come back to haunt him. Philadelphia fans may get a bad rep, but they are smart and they certainly don’t forget things that annoy them. Since his infamous quote, Papelbon has had his struggles and the fans have reminded him that, “we definitely didn’t bring you here for this.”
This season may only be five games old, but it has been a Jekyll and Hyde season for the closer. He has made three appearances thus far and came through on two of them.
Opening day, Papelbon came in to pitch the ninth inning with a four-run lead, not a save opportunity, and he set down the order with ease. It took him only 12 pitches and the Texas Rangers went down one-two-three.
Then two days later, Papelbon came in again in the ninth to close the game out, Phillies leading by two, his first save opportunity of the season. Papelbon was terrible. He couldn’t locate his pitches and his velocity was down in the low 90s. He allowed four hits and two walks, including the walk-off walk that ended the game.
This afternoon he had another save opportunity and Sandberg put the ball in his hands again. Papelbon came in and shut the door on 18 pitches and sat them down in order.
The Phillies are not going to score a lot of runs this year and they will rely on the back end of their bullpen to be solid, otherwise, we’re in for another long, frustrating summer.
If Papelbon stumbles, it will be interesting to see what Sandberg and the Phillies do, considering the amount of money they have invested and the lack of experience the rest of the bullpen possesses. Sandberg has proven he is not afraid to mix things up, so don’t be surprised if he gives the job to someone else. Let’s hope Papelbon can get back to his glory days.