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Papelbon's long-term future with Nats is murky

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Papelbon's long-term future with Nats is murky

The Nationals took swift action Monday to address Jonathan Papelbon’s short-term future with the organization, suspending the volatile closer for the remainder of the season after his dugout attack on Bryce Harper the previous afternoon.

The organization’s long-term plan for Papelbon, though, remains quite murky.

Papelbon is under contract for another season; that was among the biggest selling points to acquire him from the Phillies in July, in general manager Mike Rizzo’s mind. The fact Papelbon was willing to rework his deal, reducing his 2016 salary from $14 million to $11 million (with $3 million of that salary deferred to 2017), helped matters, as well.

But given the images of Sunday’s incident, of Papelbon putting a choke hold on Harper and slamming him into the dugout bench and rear wall, it’s difficult to imagine him showing up in Viera next spring and rejoining the club.

The Nationals wouldn’t address the issue publicly on Monday.

“He’s under contract,” Rizzo said. “We’re going to evaluate every moving part that we have after the season, and we’ll make all those decisions once the final out is made in 2015.”

Rizzo did suggest Papelbon (who isn’t accompanying the Nationals on their final road trip to Atlanta and New York) would be meeting with club officials shortly after the season ends next week. What that meeting might entail is unclear, but it is clear the organization won’t simply put the matter to rest and proceed as though it never happened in the first place.

The Nationals can’t simply try to deal Papelbon to another organization this winter. In addition to his damaged reputation — not to mention the fact he surrendered nine runs over his final 8 2/3 innings this month, suffering two losses and blowing two save opportunities — the no-trade clause that was part of his original contract with the Phillies still applies. He would have the right to veto another deal.

Which probably leaves the Nationals with only two options: 1) Release Papelbon and eat the $11 million he is owed, or 2) Keep him and hope things somehow get better next season.

That, of course, requires everyone to believe this was a one-time incident and not part of a larger, systemic problem. Rizzo was asked Monday if he believes that.

“I do,” the GM said. “Papelbon has fit in nicely in the clubhouse and in the bullpen. I think this was an isolated incident and that Jonathan will learn from it. I think he will react differently the next time.”

Then there’s this simple question: Can Papelbon and Harper co-exist on the same team in 2016? And would retaining him have any negative effect on Harper’s potential interest in signing a long-term deal to remain in Washington beyond the three more years he’s under team control?

“If Pap’s gonna help us win a World Series next year, that’s what I need,” Harper said. “That’s what this whole clubhouse needs, and they need me to do the same thing. We need to be in the lineup every single day and we can’t be fighting or anything like that. That’s just part of it. As much as I need him, he needs me. I attribute that to us being a family in here and doing the things we need to do to win World Series. And he’s part of that.

“I think, being able to go into next year and do the things we need to do, we’ll worry about next year. But if he’s gonna be our closer, he’s gotta do what he can to help this team win. And the same thing with me. I gotta go in every single day to help this team win, and that’s every single guy in this clubhouse. It takes 25 guys, and not just one.”

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Orioles weather long rain delay in 3-0 win over Nationals

Orioles weather long rain delay in 3-0 win over Nationals

WASHINGTON -- The rain was heavy and relentless. As the puddles grew deeper on the tarp at Nationals Park, the Baltimore Orioles were left to wonder if their bid for a rare road victory would be thwarted by, of all things, the weather.

During a season in which very little has worked in their favor, the Orioles withstood a long rain delay to beat the Washington Nationals 3-0 Wednesday night.

Baltimore led 2-0 after four innings when play was stopped. After a wait of 2 hours, 43 minutes, the game resumed with a few hundred fans from the announced crowd of 32,153 sprinkled around the lower seating bowl.

Mark Trumbo homered for Baltimore, and Andrew Cashner and four relievers combined on a five-hitter in a game that ended long after midnight.

"It was nice," Trumbo said. "I'm glad that we actually kept the game going. Had we not been able to, it might have been a wash. But it ended up being pretty big for us."

Baltimore ended a six-game losing streak to Washington that began last May, won for only the fourth time in 20 games and improved the majors' worst road record to 10-28.

This one was worth the wait.

"It's never easy, especially when you get over the hour mark, two-hour mark," Trumbo said. "Then you have to restart. It's almost two games in one, so, great job by our guys tonight."

The Nationals managed only two hits following the delay, both in the ninth inning.

"It happens. You can't do anything about the rain," manager Dave Martinez said. "You've got to come out and get yourself ready to play. I'm not going to make any excuses."

The rain delay cut short a solid pitching performance by Cashner, who allowed three hits and no walks over four innings in his return from an 11-day stay on the disabled list with back spasms.

Miguel Castro (2-2) followed with two hitless innings, Darren O'Day pitched a perfect seventh and Zach Britton got four outs.

Brad Brach allowed the Nationals to load the bases with two outs in the ninth before striking out Mark Reynolds .

Trumbo hit a two-run homer in the second inning off Gio Gonzalez (6-4), and for a while it appeared the drive would be washed out by the rain.

"One pitch. That was the whole game," Gonzalez lamented. "That was it."

Indeed, it all ended well for the Orioles, who added a run in the sixth when Adam Jones doubled off Shawn Kelley and scored on a sacrifice fly by Danny Valencia .

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The Nationals have had their eyes on Kelvin Herrera for years

The Nationals have had their eyes on Kelvin Herrera for years

On Monday, in the middle of their game with the Yankees, Mike Rizzo did a very Mike Rizzo thing and added another strong arm to the Nationals' bullpen well before the trade deadline.

In a trade with the Kansas City Royals, the Nats dealt prospects Kelvin Gutierrez, Blake Perkins and Yohanse Morel for relief pitcher Kelvin Herrera.

Herrera, who's in his eighth season, has walked only two batters in the last 27 games and is set to become a free agent at the end of the season. 

"We just thought that it was a good idea to strike early," Rizzo said Wednesday on 106.7 The Fan's Sports Junkies, simulcasted on NBC Sports Washington.

"We thought the closer to the deadline we get, the more competition we'll have for Kelvin [Herrera]. We were able to strike a deal with Dayton Moore quickly and [we] couldn't be happier about it."

But Mike Rizzo didn't just come across Herrera by chance, he's had his sights on him for years.

"He was one of the guys that we kind of kicked the tires on [last year] and obviously the price for Kelvin at that time with a year and a half of control was a lot different than it was with four and a half months of control."

"We did have our eyes on him for years. He's been a great reliever for years. He's one of the guys we talked about when we talked about improving our bullpen." 

Herrera has spent all of his eight seasons in the big leagues with the Royals, even winning a World Series. Trades can bring both joy and angst, but Rizzo knows Herrera is excited to get back to playing meaningful baseball.

"This guy is such a competitor; World Series tested and playoff tested. He's happy to be playing meaningful games. He talked about what it takes to win a World Series, and you know, our guys were all ears. I think he's really thankful for getting the opportunity to get after it again and get another ring."

"At the same time, you know, it's hard for those old relationship to die and to move on, but he was very excited about being with us. I spoke to him after we made the trade and he [was] a little shocked, but really fired up about it. And when he got to the clubhouse, [he] met some of his old teammates - Timmy Collins and Ryan Madson -  and was welcome with open arms by not only the bullpen guys but everyone on the team." 

Herrera will join Sean Doolittle, Brandon Kintzler, and Ryan Madson to make about as deep of a bullpen as any in baseball right now.

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