WASHINGTON — When Mark Melancon arrived in Washington via trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates, he was considered a breath of fresh air on multiple fronts.
First, and most importantly, he did his job and converted saves (17, to be exact). Secondly, he finally let the team and fans forget about Jonathan Papelbon, even if it took two weeks to finally set the former closer free.
Melancon appeared to be the anti-Papelbon, meshing with teammates and getting results. But according to reports from inside the clubhouse in San Francisco, he isn’t exactly meshing with his new teammates.
Melancon, sources say, rubbed some teammates the wrong way early in the season by putting an end to the bullpen’s 3:30 p.m. stretching session before night games, a practice that the relievers began in 2012.
Athletes are creatures of habit, and professional baseball players are said to be among the most superstitious. In fairness to the Giants, the team has won two World Series since 2012, which is two more than Melancon has ever seen. If he really did cancel team stretching, perhaps he should have done so after earning his teammates’ trust.
But the bigger issue is that the team is in the tank, currently in last place in the NL West. Melancon, who signed a then-record deal for a closer (four years, $62 million), has been inconsistent at best, saving just 11 games with a 4.58 ERA.
Make no mistake: this story would not be murmured to the media if the team was winning and Melancon was doing his job. Instead, future Hall of Fame manager Bruce Bochy is forced to address this situation in his press conferences.
“I dropped the ball. I’ve been doing this so long, you take for granted that they know what I want,” Bochy said. “These guys were used to doing it how they’ve done it — ‘I have my own routine. I’m not going to stretch.’ But we do stretch as a team here. They all have to be out there.”
Not wanting to alienate a closer with an unmoveable contract, Bochy also acknowledged that closers are entitled to their own preparation quirks.
“Sometimes other relievers, maybe they get a little taken aback by it,” he said. “I don’t know what [closer] doesn’t have a routine like that.”
Even team general manager Bobby Evans weighed in on the situation with a cryptic statement intended to defuse the situation, while neither admitting there was a problem or that anyone was to blame.
“To whatever degree it hasn’t manifested itself or to the extent it’s manifested itself in the perception of some negatively, I can assure you that was not Mark’s intention,” Evans said. “Mark is a team guy.”
Translation: Nothing to see here, folks.
The Nationals could certainly use a closer of Melancon’s caliber, but this is the type of bizarre downward spiral that any team should be happy to avoid.