WASHINGTON — An hour after Matt Williams’ pre-game press conference was scheduled to begin Monday afternoon, the Nationals manager took the podium to address Jonathan Papelbon choking Bryce Harper in the dugout the day before.
Moments earlier, the Nationals announced they had suspended Papelbon four games for his role in the incident.
“We’ve suspended Jonathan Papelbon for four games without pay, reflecting how seriously we take the incident in the dugout yesterday,” Williams said. “Also, additionally, for his part in the altercation, Bryce will be out of the lineup today.”
“At the time I left you yesterday, decisions had not been made,” he said. “I told you that it was an internal matter, and when I said that, I meant it because there’s a process to this. It does not mean that we didn’t take it seriously, but I was not going to open that process publicly.”
Asked if Harper being out of the Nationals lineup for Monday’s game against the Cincinnati Reds signals he was complicit in the incident, Williams said, “He played a part. He played a part in it. So that is why he’s out of the lineup today.”
He was then asked if Harper had previously been scheduled for an off day on Monday.
“We had planned a day off in the next coming days,” he said. “Again, we decided that today would be the day that he’s not in the lineup.”
Williams has not spoken with Papelbon about the incident, he says.
The Nationals will be on the road, in Atlanta and then New York (Mets), for their final six games. Papelbon will not travel with the team. His season is over.
“He is going to serve the three-game suspension starting today, levied by MLB, and will be an additional four games from the organization,” Williams said. “So he will not be on the trip.”
Williams spoke to Harper briefly about the incident and says Nats’ General Manager and President of Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo will address the matter further following Monday’s game.
“It’s been a very difficult 24 hours for the organization,” Williams said. “Incidents like that in the dugout is not the way we want to play our games. That being said, we have other games to play — the remainder of this season — and we look forward beyond that, too. As it sits right now, Jonathan’s a part of that, so we have to get past that. And we have to come together as a team and move past that.”
Immediately following Sunday’s game, Williams told reporters he made the decision to send Papelbon back onto the field because, at the time the incident occurred, it was a tie game. “He’s our closer,” he said.
Several hours later, Williams revised his statement to several reporters, clarifying that as of his post-game press conference, he was not aware of the extent of the incident, which occurred in the dugout several feet away from him. Williams said with hindsight, after seeing the footage, he would not have sent Papelbon back into the game.
“Looking at it briefly out of the corner of my eye, initially — it was very quick — you have arguments in the dugout,” he said on Monday. “Didn’t get a chance to see the full altercation until after.”
“When I left this room and was able to view the footage of yesterday’s incident, I was upset, I was appalled,” he added. “I think the punishment we’ve announced today fits and reflects the feeling we have about the tolerance of issues such as this, and the standards we hold all of our players and our organization to.”
“He would have not gone out for the ninth inning,” he said explicitly.