WASHINGTON — Mark that down as a failed experiment.
The Nationals have released former closer Jonathan Papelbon.
ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick and The Washington Post’s Chelsea Janes had additional details throughout the day as rumors circulated.
Mike Rizzo has a reputation for being one of the best GMs in baseball when it comes to getting the most out of trades. Last year’s midseason trade for the celebrated closer, however, didn’t go down so well for the Nationals.
Papelbon was inconsistent in his performance, he routinely put himself in tight jams in the ninth inning and he blew two out of nine save opportunities as the Nationals sputtered in the second half last season. He also infamously choked out eventual National League MVP Bryce Harper, the tipping point for many Nationals fans.
This season brought much of the same, minus the (physical) choking. Papelbon struggled to get outs consistently, blowing three of 22 save opportunities and letting myriad others get much closer than Washington would have liked.
Many of his numbers this season, including ERA (4.37), WHIP (1.457) and strikeouts per walk (2.21), are either the worst of his career or the worst since his rookie season. He has walked more batters (14) in 35.0 innings this season than he did in 2006, 2008, 2011, 2013 and 2015 — he pitched at least 60 innings in each of those five seasons.
When the Nationals traded for Mark Melancon just before the trade deadline, Papelbon’s role on the team became muddled. Melancon has been dominant as the new closer, saving both opportunities he’s had and striking out seven while allowing just one hit in 5.0 innings.
Papelbon, meanwhile, has pitched just twice since the Nationals acquired Melancon. He pitched 2.1 innings, giving up two hits, walking one and allowing one earned run while striking out one.
Janes and Casey Stern of MLB Network Radio offered additional insight into the situation via a series of tweets Saturday morning.
Nick Pivetta, the right-handed starting prospect Washington gave up in return, struggled last season in moving to the Philadelphia farm system, but he has rebounded with a solid 2016 season. He has started 22 games, going 11-6 with a 3.41 ERA and a 1.202 WHIP in 124.0 innings at Double-A Reading. He is just 23 years old and listed by MLB.com as the Phillies’ 18th-best prospect.