MIAMI -- A day after agreeing to a trade to the Nationals, new Washington closer Jonathan Papelbon said he felt free and is starting a new life with his new team. As he put it, he gave up $2 million to win and be at a place where he is happy.
Papelbon is having one of his most productive seasons, going 17-for-17 in save opportunities with a 1.59 ERA with the Phillies. The veteran said he is having a great season because he has learned how to pitch. He no longer can blow hitters away like he did during his days with the Red Sox, but he said he has learned "how to read swings" and throw fewer pitches per inning. Papelbon is one of the few players on the Nationals with World Series experience.
"I played against [the Nationals] for four years now, and I've seen how the organization has become," Papelbon said. "To me, it's a fitting organization for me, a bunch of baseball players that want to win. That's all I ask for, is come here and try to win, and I think it's the best fit for me to get out of Philly. It made no difference to give up the $2 million to come here. To me it's all about winning and be in a place where I'm happy."
Papelbon agreed to an $11 million deal for next season, forgoing a $13 million club option that would have automatically vested if he finished just 14 more games this season.
Papelbon said he wouldn't have joined the Nationals unless it was guaranteed that he would close games. At 34 years old, he has 342 career saves and acknowledged he is going after Mariano Rivera's career saves record, which stands at 652.
"This is what I envisioned chasing Mariano," Papelbon said. "It's a path I started 11 years ago and now I'm trying to do everything I can to continue that -- winning championships as a closer. I understand it's a pressure role and everything that's involved in it. If I'm blowing five games in row, no I don't expect to be out there. It's all about winning."
Papelbon is one of only three MLB closers to be perfect in save opportunities this season, and he ranks among National League relief leaders in ERA (seventh) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (tied for 10th, 5.00).
He will wear uniform No. 58, while Doug Fister will make the switch and wear No. 33. With Papelbon being Washington's closer, it means Drew Storen will be the setup man. Until Tuesday night, Storen was the closer. Papelbon said he wouldn't have joined the Nationals unless the team spoke to Storen first.
When Papelbon arrived, he had a talk with Storen and told him he didn't come to upset anyone.
"I think Drew realized that," Papelbon said. "Another thing is, I've been in many of these situations -- myself and Billy Wagner, myself and Eric Gagne. Some of them are the most premier closers in the game. Those two guys to this day are some of my best friends in the game. I expect the same thing with Drew. I imagine we'll create a good rapport there and ... be a one-two punch in baseball that is feared and help us hoist that championship trophy in the end with champagne over it.
"It's very hard for Drew, and I get that and I understand that. But Drew is a professional, has tremendous stuff. There are going to be days where Drew has to pick me up. There are going to be days I have to pick Drew up. It's the only way it's going to work. It's the only way we are going to be successful if we do it that way. It's a business where we are both professionals. I'm going to help him as much as I can. Hopefully he will help me as much as he can during this three-month run."