Though some have been prettier than others, Wednesday night's 3-0 win over the Braves was Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon's fifth save in as many chances already this season. The 12-year veteran is off to a blazing start and leads all MLB closer in saves with his team holding the best record in the NL at 6-1.
It's hard to begin a season much better than that and, according to Papelbon, he feels as good as he has felt in a long time.
"My stuff has felt real good. It feels better than it has in many years. I physically feel better than I have in a lot of years," the 35-year-old said.
That's coming from a guy who held a 2.13 ERA in 2015 and made the All-Star team. Papelbon, in fact, hasn't posted an ERA above 3.00 since 2010.
On Wednesday, Papelbon allowed a single to A.J. Piernzynski with one out in the ninth, but needed only eight pitches to shut down the Braves for his fifth save. He has allowed one run on a solo homer to Christian Yelich, but that's it through five innings this season.
Papelbon has a reputation for being an aggressive pitcher, not afraid to go after hitters no matter who is standing in the box. But catcher Wilson Ramos thinks he has been even more confident with his stuff through five outings in 2016.
"To me, he's aggressive this year. More aggressive. He throw two or three balls in a row, then he come back to the zone. He attack the zone really well. His pitches work well. That's what we need. We need him aggressive on the mound, the closer, really aggressive. Hopefully stay like that for the rest of the season, because we need him," Ramos explained.
Papelbon says that's just a matter of the games he's pitched in so far.
"I think the ballgame dictates my aggressiveness in the situation. Obviously, with a 3-run lead I'm not going to nitpick up there. For me, I think the game dictates it more than what people think," he said.
The eventful end to Papelbon's 2015 season was well-documented with the dugout altercation with Bryce Harper, the suspension and the trade rumors. He returned to the Nats this year unexpectedly, and only after a long offseason of introspection.
"I put a lot of hard work in this offseason to become a lot healthier physically and mentally," he said.
Five saves alone won't make up for all that went down last September, but the closer is certainly off to a good start on the mound.