The Nationals’ new closer explored his new clubhouse Wednesday afternoon, his new Nationals T-shirt already cut off above the navel, sleeves torn off to reveal tattooed arms and torso. The lockers in the visitor’s clubhouse don’t have names on them, just numbers, and Jonathan Papelbon’s was labeled with No. 58, the number he was given as a Red Sox rookie and vowed then to make special. He had to compensate Doug Fister, who switched to No. 33 Wednesday, to wear it. He would not say how much it cost him.
Getting a Nationals jersey at all cost him $2 million, the difference between what his 2016 option with the Phillies would have paid him and what his newly agreed to deal with Washington will. In his first meeting with the media as a member of the Nationals, Papelbon said that money “made no difference.”
“To me it’s all about winning and being in a place I’m happy,” he said, one of more than a dozen times he mentioned the word “win” or “winning” in the 10 minutes of questions.
“I think the main reason why I accepted this trade to come here is because I’ve played against these guys for four years now and I’ve seen the way the organization has become and to me it’s a fitting organization for me,” Papelbon said. “There’s a bunch of baseball players here that want to win and that’s all I ask for is to come here and try to win.”
The Nationals want him to help them do that. Over the past 10 seasons, no one has more saves (342), strikeouts (727) or pitched more innings (633) as a reliever than Papelbon. To create space for him, the Nationals had to shift Drew Storen from closing to the eighth inning. Papelbon said he understands the situation. When he pitched for the Red Sox in 2009, Boston acquired Billy Wagner to bolster the back end of the bullpen. Papelbon expressed displeasure. He’s pitched in tandem with Eric Gagne, too, and said they are two of his best friends in baseball now.
“I’ve spoken to Drew and I told Drew ‘listen, I don’t want to come here unless you talk to Mike and everyone’s okay with it. I don’t wanna come here and upset anyone. I just wanna come here and win.'”, Papelbon said. “I think Drew realized that.”
Storen’s only comment on the move was to say his agent and Mike Rizzo are in ongoing discussions. Nationals Manager Matt Williams said Storen did not ask to be traded, and is ready to pitch.
“I imagine that we’ll be able to create a good repertoire together and be able to go out there and be a 1-2 punch in baseball that is feared and can help us hoist a trophy at the end with champagne all over it,” Papelbon said. “I think it’s very hard for Drew. I get that. I understand that. But Drew’s a professional, has tremendous stuff.”
Papelbon spoke to Williams and pitching coach Steve McCatty before the game — “a great conversation,” Papelbon said.
“I like the fact that he’s been there,” Williams said. “He’s been in the heat. He’s been in the postseason. He understands the everyday grind of being a closer. He understands how to be a good teammate and he’s expressed that since he’s been here … any situation he gets to in the course of the season, he’s already been there. And that’s a comforting feeling for everybody.”
Williams said the Nationals are “a better team” with Papelbon around. He also acknowledged the awkwardness of Storen’s situation.
“[Storen] understands that his obligation when he gets in there is to get those outs, regardless. That’s a good mind-set to have,” Williams said. “It’s never any fun for anybody. But he’s a pro.”
As clubhouse manager Mike Wallace replaced the No. 58 sticker on Doug Fister’s batting helmet with No. 33, Papelbon made some rounds to his new teammates before the game. He introduced himself to Danny Espinosa, chatted with Jayson Werth then Ian Desmond, and asked Casey Janssen, another former closer, whether he had the rubber bands needed to stretch in the bullpen.
“The number one thing that it’s going to take for us to win this is to have each other’s back, pulling the same rope, and picking each other up and just competing. And don’t worry about anything else,” Papelbon said. “As I’ve played against these guys for the past four years, I see that. I see that ability and the moment I walked in this clubhouse, the way it is, it’s a close group of guys. They all are together. You can feel that. You can sense that. That’s what I was hoping for when I walked in there.”