Jonathan Papelbon is quietly the Phillies’ best reliever

He hasn’t had many opportunities, but when Papelbon has been asked to close a game, he has delivered. Credit: Getty Images He hasn’t had many opportunities, but when Papelbon has
been asked to close a game, he has delivered. Credit: Getty Images

Quiet and Jonathan Papelbon have been mutually exclusive throughout much of his eventful career. Papelbon, who has been a vocal part of the Phillies clubhouse since joining the team after signing a $50 million contract prior to the 2012 season, has been quietly having a good season.

Papelbon, who is one of the few bright spots out of Ryne Sandberg’s bullpen, has been very good after blowing the second game of the season in Arlington.

The intense closer, who saved the 300th game of his career Tuesday night against the offensively challenged San Diego Padres, has a 1.48 ERA and 14 saves. Pap also has 12 clean innings in 25 appearances in 2014.

Papelbon is pleased with his season and over the moon over save 300.

“It means a lot to me, more than most people would think,” Papelbon said of his 300th career save.

It took Papelbon 17 days to have the opportunity to reach the magic number but it wasn’t his fault since save opportunities have been few and far between. His team has struggled mightily. After scuffling through a subpar spring, some pundits wondered if Papelbon would struggle.

But he has come on after the first week of the 2014 campaign. After entering the season with a subpar fastball, Papelbon has increased his velocity. His effective fastball peaks at about 93 mph, which in tandem with his splitter, has proven to be a difficult combination for the opposition.

Having a solid reliever is a luxury for a cellar dwellar. It would be shocking if the Phillies, who had the worst record in the National League entering last night’s game with the Padres, were anything but sellers. Their biggest problem is who can they unload? It’ll be difficult to trade the oft-injured Mike Adams, who is back on the disabled list. It will tough to deal Cliff Lee since he’ll be back, at earliest, within a month and then there is huge salary and limited-no trade clause to contend with. Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley have complete no-trade clauses. If Ruben Amaro swaps Carlos Ruiz for prospects, who will catch?

The Phillies trade chips are very limited. However, Papelbon, who could provide a boost for a contender, which lacks a closer, might provide a prospect.

“It helps that Papelbon is pitching much better than last year,” a NL scout said. “He could really help someone the way he’s pitching. The Phillies and a trading partner would have to work out the contract part, so maybe something happens in July.”

In the meantime, Papelbon will continue to close games for the Phillies. Considering how poor the opposition is during this homestand, perhaps Pap will have a number of chances through Sunday.

Papelbon, who is the third youngest closer to reach 300, hopes to double that figure. “I got to try and keep working hard,” Papelbon said. “Hopefully I’ll get another 300, if I stay healthy.”

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