by Rick Snider


WASHINGTON — Washington Nationals reliever Jonathan Papelbon is suspended for the rest of the season. It’s just the start of a heavy team makeover.

Papelbon was suspended four games by the Nats on Monday for fighting with teammate Bryce Harper and three games by Major League Baseball for hitting Baltimore Oriole Manny Machado recently. Thus, Papelbon’s gone for the season.

But Papelbon shouldn’t be the only one to go. The Nats should also fire manager Matt Williams after his clueless response to Sunday’s dugout brawl that was typical of a disappointing season where the once World Series contenders will barely make .500 and that’s still not given.

There’s a lot of fault to spread around for the Nats freefall, but Papelbon choking potential National League MVP in the dugout on Sunday was a punk move and Williams not noticing shows how clueless he is.

Williams’ postgame was about winning tomorrow. Seriously. That’s shows how poor of a job he has done this season. He should have publicly chewed on Papelbon in the presser and threw the latter’s locker into the street. Sure, Williams obviously had a come-to-Jesus speech with Papelbon before making the reliever talk to the media, but that’s not enough. And Williams saying he didn’t notice the fight is just nuts. That Williams finally addressed the fight a day later was a sadly-delayed response.

Papelbon was obviously waiting for a chance to give Harper a hard time after earlier comments by the latter on the reliever hitting Machado. Papelbon yelled at Harper when approaching the dugout over not running out a fly ball and kept going after Harper yelled back before leaping at Harper’s throat.

A crummy reliever shouldn’t be yelling at anybody and certainly not attacking the franchise’s best player. Maybe Harper should have given a little more effort, but this is a potential MVP year and he’s the only player that has earned his money with the Nats this season.

First, don’t yell at Harper at that moment when he’s upset over the at bat. Second, a senior position player like Jayson Werth or the manager are the ones to say something, not some recently-acquired reliever that has done nothing.

Papelbon has been crummy since Washington traded a pitching prospect to Philadelphia for him on July 28. The ninth-inning specialist is 2-2 in Washington with a 3.04 earned run average. Most telling is allowing 22 hits and four walks in 23 2/3 innings. That’s one base runner per inning – the opposite of what closers are supposed to do.

Even sadder, gaining Papelbon apparently blew closer Drew Storen’s remaining confidence. He’s another one who should be gone next season as the Nats rebuild the bullpen.

Sunday was obviously a tough game for the Nats after being eliminated from the NL East race on Saturday night. They’ve greatly underperformed and they know it. Sure, injuries are a legitimate excuse, but the Nats also didn’t pitch nearly as well as expected and often look awful at the plate. When things went badly for Washington, they went real bad.

Williams did little to lift the Nats out of a funk after earning NL Manager of the Year last season. He has been a robotic dud that even die-hard season-ticket holders booed at a recent press conference. Don’t think the owners aren’t worried about ticket sales when the team is revamped over the winter. After four largely successful years with two division titles, Washington showed nothing in the postseason. And in Washington, fans only back a winner. Many fans have even given up on the Redskins.

So end this madness now. The Nats rightly told Papelbon to go home a week early. Now do the right thing and give Williams his pink slip on Sunday.

Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter @Snide_Remarks.

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