Pap putting up big stats, despite tough year

Pap putting up big stats, despite tough year

BOSTON -- In many ways, the fifth full season of Jonathan Papelbon's career has been the toughest. The statistics show a career high of seven blown saves and an ERA of 3.86, which is a spike of more than two runs from the career mark (1.84) the righty had entering this season.

It is as if Papelbon set unfair standards for himself, because the season he's having is still one many closers would take.

His 36 saves are the fourth-highest total in the American League, trailing only Tampa Bay's Rafael Soriano (43), Kansas City's Joaquin Soria (40) and Texas' Neftali Feliz (37). In 63 innings, Papelbon has 70 strikeouts. Opponents are hitting just .218 against him.

What does Red Sox manager Terry Francona think of the year his closer is having?

"A couple of things," Francona said. "It's a little tougher to answer that question after last night, because his ERA went up. He's still fourth in the league in saves. There's a lot that Pap does. He's just had [lapses], whether you called them hiccups or inconsistencies, and his walks are up, which has made his innings harder."

Papelbon, who tossed a scoreless inning in another non-save situation in Wednesday's 6-1 win, says that there have been no physical problems to cause the decline of his numbers.

"No question, no question," said Papelbon. "I feel stronger at this point in the season than I have in the last five or six years. That's a good sign for me."

The life is still very much there on Papelbon's pitches. The problem has been command.

"His split has come and gone from time to time, which I think has made his work harder," Francona said. "But I don't think there's anything out there to think, 'OK, he can't do it, he's throwing 87 [mph], he's nursing it up there.' We've talked about setting the bar higher. He's certainly not there right now, statistically. But that doesn't mean he can't be really good."

While the natural inclination for talk-show callers would be to suggest that Daniel Bard supplant Papelbon as the closer, Francona hasn't thought along those lines.

"And I also don't think that you immediately take that guy out of that role for a couple of reasons," Francona said. "One is it upsets what you've got, and the other one is that the guy everyone is complaining about, where do you think he's going to pitch? If you take your closer and make him your setup guy, all the people you don't want him to face, he's coming in with men on [base]. It's sort of a backwards [theory]. You better have a good closer and good rest of your bullpen. If you're short, you get exposed."