14 Aug

cardboard treasure

The Washington Nationals have rid themselves of the mercurial Jonathan Papelbon, giving the ex-Mississippi State star his unconditional release on Saturday. Saturday also happened to be National Baseball Card Day. So, of course, when you rip open a pack of 2016 Topps Series 1 to celebrate this special day, you get a … Jonathan Papelbon. Then you open a 2016 Bowman pack and you get a … Mark Melancon, the ex-Pittsburgh closer who displaced Papelbon in Washington. Is that ironic or coincidental or a little bit of both? Also pulled from the same 36-card pack that included the Papelbon: Mitch Moreland, Seth Smith, Chris Coghlan, Kendall Graveman, Jeff Francoeur and Blaine Boyer, local connections all. In a pack of Topps Series 2, there’s a Martin Prado and Luis Avilan and a 100 Years of Wrigley Field commemorative card featuring Rafael Palmeiro’s big league debut (Sept. 8, 1986). In the afore-mentioned Bowman pack, there’s a JaCoby Jones, the former Richton High star now in Triple-A in Detroit’s system. Scattered throughout these packs are other cards of note. A Corey Seager rookie here, a Kyle Seager there. A Jose Bautista bat flip card here, a Rougned Odor there. Current stars such as Madison Bumgarner, Anthony Rizzo, Yoenis Cespedes and Adam Duvall, and future stars (maybe) like Gary Sanchez, A.J. Reed, Brendan Rodgers and Phil Bickford. (Alas, no Dansby Swanson or Ozzie Albies.) Among the so-called inserts, there was a Manny Machado, Cal Ripken, Ken Griffey Jr., Ichiro Suzuki and a reprint of a 1991 Frank Thomas (very cool card). All in all, quite a haul. P.S. So what does Papelbon do next? He wants to keep playing, for sure, and among the teams that are rumored to be interested is the Boston Red Sox, his original club. Do they dare go there?

29 Jul

good news, bad news

The Texas Rangers look to Mitch Moreland for power. With Prince Fielder done for the year, perhaps now more than ever. Ex-Mississippi State standout Moreland delivered two solo home runs on Thursday night, powering the Rangers to a 3-2 win against Kansas City. “I know that’s what I’m looked upon as … hit the ball in the gap or drive it out of the ballpark,” Moreland told mlb.com, while humbly deflecting praise toward winning pitcher Cole Hamels. Texas, which once had a big lead in the American League West, is up 3 games on second-place Houston. Moreland enjoyed his best season in 2015 (.278, 23 homers, 85 RBIs) but has had his struggles this year. He is hitting just .237 with 16 homers and 42 RBIs. But there are indications he has found a groove. In his last 38 at-bats, the lefty-hitting Amory native is batting .289 with five homers. Both of his homers on Thursday were to the opposite field at Globe Life Park, an approach that Rangers manager Jeff Banister made note of. “When he’s locked in like that it’s a huge plus for our offense,” he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. … Washington manager Dusty Baker went back to Jonathan Papelbon (see previous post) in a save situation on Thursday. The former State star lasted three batters. The struggling Papelbon, handed a three-run lead against San Francisco, got an out but then yielded a hit and a walk. Two other relievers closed out the Nationals’ 4-2 win. Papelbon was charged with a run that moved his ERA to 4.41.

27 Jul

woe in washington

Two straight rough outings have recharged the concerns about Jonathan Papelbon in Washington. The Nationals were reported to be looking for a closer even before the two meltdowns, a four-run outing against San Diego on Sunday followed by Tuesday night’s blown save against Cleveland. Former Mississippi State star Papelbon allowed two hits, two walks and two runs without recording an out – there was an error involved – as the Indians rallied from two runs down to walk off with a 7-6 victory. Papelbon, 35, who had seven straight scoreless outings in July before these last two, is 19 of 22 in save chances for the first-place Nats, but his ERA is now 4.18 and his WHIP 1.30. He went on the disabled list in June for the first time in his career. His fastball velocity is way down, though Papelbon himself is not. “My confidence in this game has never fluctuated, and it never will,” he told mlb.com after Tuesday’s outing. Washington manager Dusty Baker was non-committal on whether he was going to make a change from within at closer. Meanwhile, the Nats, who lost out on Aroldis Chapman, are rumored to be interested in Andrew Miller, Wade Davis and David Robertson. … Any hope that Aaron Barrett might rejoin the Nationals’ bullpen down the stretch has evaporated. The ex-Ole Miss star suffered a fractured elbow while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and has undergone more surgery. Barrett posted a 2.66 ERA in 50 games in 2014 and a 4.60 in 40 games last season before he was shut down. He had the Tommy John procedure last September and ankle surgery in December.

14 Jun

it’s a first

Jonathan Papelbon, reported to be unavailable to close Washington’s 4-1 win against the Chicago Cubs on Monday, won’t be available for at least 15 more days. The Mississippi State product was placed on the disabled list today — for the first time in his 12 years in the big leagues – with an intercostal strain. Papelbon, 35, is 16-for-18 in save chances with a 3.28 ERA for the Nationals, who lead the National League East. In his last outing on Sunday, he yielded a go-ahead home run in the ninth against Philadelphia but got the win when the Nats scored twice in the bottom of the inning.

06 Jun

adventure time

Jonathan Papelbon is 15 of 17 in save chances and his team, the Washington Nationals, is in first place. There have been no dugout confrontations. But there have been some adventures on the field, such as the one Sunday at the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. On to protect a two-run lead in the ninth, former Mississippi State star Papelbon gave up a single, a walk, a run-scoring double and an intentional pass to load the bases. He then got a pop out, a strikeout (of ex-Ole Miss standout Zack Cozart) and a fly out (to the warning track in center field) to escape the jam and close out a 10-9 victory. “I think my motto has always been, ‘Bend but don’t break,'” Papelbon told mlb.com. Well, maybe, but there are concerns about Papelbon in Washington beyond his explosive temperament. Now 35, he doesn’t get the punchouts he used to (only 18 in 22 2/3 innings). His ERA is up to 3.18 and his WHIP to 1.37 (career average 1.03). It’s a situation that bears watching. You don’t want your closer leading too many adventures.

27 Sep

fun times in d.c.

Let’s recap here. The first-place Washington Nationals deal for former Mississippi State star Jonathan Papelbon, who was clamoring for a trade out of Philadelphia, and demote their closer, Drew Storen, to give Papelbon that job. The team, for whatever reason, goes into a funk, falling out of first place. In a crucial series at home against the New York Mets from Sept. 7-9, the Nats are swept, with Papelbon taking the loss in the memorable middle game in which the Mets overcame a six-run deficit. On Wednesday of last week, with the Nationals essentially out of the playoff race, the tempestuous Papelbon hits Baltimore’s Manny Machado with a pitch and gets ejected. Nats star Bryce Harper, seemingly unhappy about the incident, says he expects to get hit the next day. (He doesn’t.) Papelbon gets suspended for three games for the intentional HBP – recall that last year he was suspended after making an obscene gesture toward Phillies fans — but he appeals and plays on. Fast forward to today’s game at home against Philadelphia, Papelbon’s former team. Papelbon appears to instigate a fight with Harper in the dugout after Harper popped out and jogged to first base. Harper, ruffled but not injured, leaves the game, and Papelbon goes out and gives up a two-run homer plus three more runs. He gets yanked and exits to boos. Yes, the Nationals lose in their home finale. Fun times in Washington, huh? The question now is, What do the Nationals do with Papelbon? He has a year left on a 5-year, $61M contract and finding another team willing to take him might be very difficult.

03 Sep

opportune moments

One-run lead in the ninth on the road against the best team in the National League. It was the kind of situation Washington had in mind for Jonathan Papelbon when it traded for the high-priced closer in late July. The former Mississippi State standout came through, despite allowing two hits, and the Nationals notched a 4-3 win Wednesday night against St. Louis. Problem is for the Nats, that kind of situation hasn’t come along often enough. It was just the sixth save opportunity for Papelbon since he joined the club on July 28. Washington went 12-17 in August while the New York Mets went 20-8 and blew past them in the NL East. The Nationals have perked up a bit of late but even after Wednesday’s win are 6.5 games behind the Mets in the division. Papelbon, 23-for-23 in saves for the year, allowed a leadoff single to ex-Mississippi Braves star Jason Heyward, and a one-out hit put runners at the corners. Papelbon got a strikeout and a ground out to end it and was effusive afterward. “(The Cardinals) are the best team in baseball right now. It pretty much shows that we could play with anybody out there,” he told mlb.com. Perhaps, but they’ve got a lot of work to do. Baseball Prospectus puts the Nationals’ current chances of making the postseason at 8.2 percent. … Another ex-Bulldogs star, Mitch Moreland, also came through in a big game. He drove in the go-ahead run with a 10th-inning single as surging Texas won at San Diego 5-4. The Rangers, winners of nine of their last 12, are just 2 games behind Houston in the American League West and lead Minnesota by a game in the battle for the second wild card. Moreland is batting .286 with 18 homers and 68 RBIs. P.S. Tim Anderson, the Chicago White Sox prospect from East Central Community College, was named to the Southern League’s postseason All-Star team as the utility player. Anderson, who hit .312 with 49 steals for Birmingham, also won the hustle award. He was beaten out at shortstop by Biloxi’s Orlando Arcia (.308). Shuckers right-hander Jorge Lopez (12-5, 2.29 ERA) also made the team. No M-Braves were selected.

30 Jul

a kind of hush

The Washington Nationals’ clubhouse did not explode on Wednesday. Jonathan Papelbon showed up in the visitors’ digs at Miami’s Marlins Park, and everybody said all the right things, at least publicly, about the team’s addition of a new closer. “To me it’s all about winning and being in a place I’m happy,” former Mississippi State standout Papelbon said in a Washington Post story. Papelbon wasn’t happy in Philadelphia, where he was 17-for-17 in save chances for a last-place club. The Nationals’ former closer, Drew Storen, did not sound happy in comments he made on Tuesday after the trade news broke. But he pitched — and pitched well — in the eighth inning of a 7-2 win over the Marlins that boosted the first-place Nats to 53-46, 2 games ahead of the New York Mets in the National League East. Papelbon did not get in the game. Washington GM Mike Rizzo said Tuesday that the Nationals aren’t worried about the possible side effects of adding the sometimes prickly Papelbon to their clubhouse, calling him “a winner.” “He excels in pressure situations, and that’s his personality,” Rizzo told espn.com. So … all was quiet on the Papelbon front, which was a theme for the day among Mississippians in the majors. Eight hitters went a combined 3-for-19 with one run. And Ole Miss alum Drew Pomeranz, making a relief appearance for Oakland, faced three batters and didn’t retire any of them. All three scored, and his ERA jumped to 4.08.

07 Jul

going places?

Jonathan Papelbon is going to Cincinnati next week to represent the Philadelphia Phillies in the MLB All-Star Game on July 14. The ex-Mississippi State standout hopes to be going somewhere else and representing a different team soon thereafter. On the occasion of his selection to a sixth Midsummer Classic, Papelbon reiterated his desire to be traded from the lowly Phils to a contender. “Any team that wants me, I’m willing to go to,” he told mlb.com on Monday. Papelbon, who has a big contract and a combustible nature, has 14 saves and a 1.65 ERA this season. The trade deadline is July 31. … Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier launched his campaign to be a Final Vote All-Star selection by launching a walk-off home run against Baltimore on Monday. It was the 17th homer of the year and first career walk-off blast for the Minnesota second baseman. Passed over in Monday’s selection process, Dozier is one of five players on the American League Final Vote ballot. Fans will pick one; voting runs through Friday at 4 p.m. CDT. Dozier, batting .260 with a league-leading 63 runs and 42 RBIs, is seeking his first All-Star Game appearance. He says he won’t be disappointed if he doesn’t make it. “If it happens, it happens,” he told twincities.com.

25 Jan

a dead deal?

Friday became Saturday and Saturday became Sunday and Jonathan Papelbon is still a member of the Philadelphia Phillies. The rumored trade that would have moved the former Mississippi State star to the Milwaukee Brewers is all but dead, a report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel would seem to indicate. Money issues in Papelbon’s contract appear to be the snag. Papelbon, 34, has a no-trade clause and Milwaukee is on the list of destinations he must approve. Papelbon, who has 325 career saves (39 last year), would fill the Brewers’ need for a closer. He has said he wants to play for a contender, and the Brewers are much better positioned to contend in 2015 than are the Phillies. It seems like a move Papelbon would welcome, even if it meant making some concessions. P.S. The lists just keep on coming: Former Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson, after a breakout year with Colorado, was rated the No. 8 left fielder in the game by MLB Network. Bobby Bradley, the Harrison Central High alum who had a sensational pro debut in the Cleveland system, was ranked the ninth-best first base prospect by mlb.com. And MSU alum Hunter Renfroe, who reached the Double-A level in 2014, is rated the No. 3 prospect in San Diego’s system by Baseball America and projected to make the majors by 2016.