Mike Rizzo further justified the Nationals' decision to suspend Jonathan Papelbon four games and bench Bryce Harper one game Monday evening, citing the disparity in punishments between the two players as "equitable" given their roles in Sunday's dugout fight.
"You could see, by the type of discipline we placed on both players, which we thought was weighed the most," the Nationals general manager said after Monday's home finale against the Reds. "We felt that they were both equal and equitable ways to handle the situation."
Rizzo clearly placed the lion's share of blame for the incident on Papelbon, who instigated the matter by chirping at Harper for not running hard down the first-base line on an eighth-inning popup, then proceeded to grab his teammate by the neck and slam him against the dugout bench and back wall. But he also cited Harper for playing a part in the fracas, responding to Papelbon's verbal barbs with his own words that perhaps prompted the closer to turn physical.
"He was involved in a dugout fight with Jonathan Papelbon; that was the reason," Rizzo said. "He was involved in it. And you could see by how we weighted the disciplinary actions who we felt was more at fault than the other."
Rizzo did offer a passionate defense of Harper's hustle, both on the play in question and throughout his MVP-caliber season.
"I love the way Bryce Harper plays," the GM said. "I've got no problem with his effort level, with the way he hustles. It is the job of the veteran players to point out when they think you're not playing the game right. Pap must've felt that he wasn't, and he called him on it. It takes a guy with some guts to call a player out nowadays. But Harp plays the game the right way. I have no problem with the way he plays. Wasn't it just the other day people were telling us he plays too hard and we have to calm him down and not let him run so hard?"
Rizzo said he spoke to Papelbon via phone on Monday, informing him of the club's decision. The veteran reliever won't be joining the Nationals on their season-ending road trip but will apparently meet with team officials sometime shortly after that.
"He was upset with the suspension, and we discussed about the nature of the incident and how I felt that it was an unacceptable way to handle yourself as a Washington National," Rizzo said. "We parted amicably, and I left it with: We will see him shortly after the season."
Rizzo wouldn't delve into specifics about Papelbon's future with the organization beyond this year, other than to acknowledge more decisions will have to be made sometime soon.
"He's under contract," the GM 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 admitted he was surprised when Papelbon was allowed to re-take the mound for the ninth inning, just minutes after the fight, but understood why manager Matt Williams didn't immediately realize the severity of the incident.
"I thought it was odd," Rizzo said. "But there's a lot of things going on in the dugout at the time. Matt missed it. He owned up to it. He said it was his fault, if he had known he wouldn't have put him back in. His job is to manage that area in the dugout. And he made a mistake."
Asked if he was bothered by the fact no other coaches explained to Williams what exactly happened in that moment, Rizzo replied: "There's plenty of mistakes to go around in the issue, yes."
The Nationals knew of Papelbon's reputation when they acquired him July 28, but Rizzo said he was confident in the background work he and others in the organization did that the combustible reliever would fit in well in Washington.
"We did a lot of due diligence, like we do with every player that we acquire at the trade deadline or the draft or anything," he said. "We talked to a lot of his teammates, a lot of teammates he had in Boston. He's one of those guys that maybe irritates you if he's on the other team. But he's a good teammate that wants to win. He's a competitive guy."
Has Papelbon lived up to that description?
"I think for the most part he has fit into the clubhouse culture fine," Rizzo said. "You can ask the players in there. I think they respect what he's done in the game and the way he prepares and goes about his business. I'm not going to judge his entire body, his whole career, by this one incident. It was unfortunate and unacceptable. And I think the suspension says that."