Take a look at the box score and see that Jonathan Papelbon has saved three games in three opportunities and you may think his return to the Nationals has gone perfectly smooth through the first week of the 2016 season. Though he has not been bad by any stretch, he has made it interesting in two of those appearances.
On Wednesday in Atlanta he allowed two basehits and needed 14 pitches to hold on to a 3-1 victory for the Nationals. And on Sunday against the Marlins he gave up another two hits, the first a solo home run by Christian Yelich to cut the Nats' lead to 4-2.
They haven't been clean outings, but that's to be expected from a closer, manager Dusty Baker believes.
"That's a tough job. The closer position is a tough job," Baker said. "I had Rod Beck [with the Giants] who saved 50-something in a row and he scared me to death in about 30 of them. You know what I mean? You just learn that as long as he's not nervous, then I'm not nervous."
Papelbon has 352 career saves and 46 blown saves in 11 MLB seasons, 10 of them as a full-time closer. He has been around long enough to know the positives and negatives that come with the job, and what it takes to be good at it. Baker likes that about him.
"It doesn't matter what it looks like," Baker explained. "There are very few shutdown innings, period. It's hard to take the last breath out of a team. When they're down to their last couple of outs, it increases the concentration on the other side. Everybody can't close. I've tried to move guys into the closer role, but you have to have a special mentality."
Baker hopes to avoid pitching Papelbon on three consecutive days this season, but knows it could be necessary if he racks up saves. If Papelbon is deemed unavailable, he will likely turn to Felipe Rivero, Blake Treinen or Shawn Kelley to be the so-called backup closer.
But Papelbon is the main guy and Baker is completely fine with that. He wants the fans to start coming around to his embattled closer, too.
"I hear people talking about Papelbon, but they need to love Papelbon because he almost has 400-something saves. That's a lot of saves. That's a lot of times being in pressure situations and you're trying to take that last out away from somebody. He works hard. He's one of the leaders in the bullpen. I hear him getting on guys if they're not there in time for stretching or in time for running. This is the kind of guy that you want on your team," Baker said.