Jonathan Papelbon. (Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post)

When the Nationals acquired closer Jonathan Papelbon in a July 28 trade, they were two games up in the National League East race with an obvious need to upgrade the bullpen. Since the trade, the Nationals are 11-16 and haven’t needed Papelbon much because of the types of games they have played.

Papelbon has pitched in only seven of 27 potential games since his trade. Only three of those appearances have been save situations. Drew Storen, the former closer, has appeared in 10 games as a setup man.

“For me, it’s about mentally staying prepared,” Papelbon said. “Staying mentally focused on the task at hand and not losing sight of that even though you’re not pitching. It’s easy to get out of that mode.”

Papelbon said he doesn’t do anything extra when he goes through long stretches without pitching. Recently, he went five days in between outings, both in big wins that weren’t save situations. “I try to stay in the same routine and stay mentally zoned in every night and not just lose focus,” he said.

Before a game, Papelbon gets ready in the clubhouse, heading to the bullpen late in the game. He doesn’t throw a lot before an appearance, only just before entering the game in the bullpen, to save the wear and tear on his arm. Anything beyond that depends on how he feels that day.

“I’m day to day, man,” he said. “I do what I can that day to be ready. That’s all I can do.”

Even though his first month with the Nationals has featured little work, Papelbon said he has adjusted well and believes his usage is simply because of the ebb and flow of the season. The Nationals have won five of the past seven games and he thinks his workload could increase, too.

“Every time a team goes on a good run and wins a lot of games, your closer usually gets used a lot,” he said. “I’m ready.”