If the Phillies are in a save situation Tuesday night, Jonathan Papelbon says he will be available for duty.
He called in sore Sunday and his replacement, Antonio Bastardo, blew a three-run lead in the ninth inning en route to a demoralizing 5-4 loss to the New York Mets at Citi Field.
Manager Ryne Sandberg lost six pounds between that loss and reporting to work Tuesday. No, it wasn’t Sunday’s ugliness that made Sandberg ill. It was a bad post-game burger in New York.
Papelbon’s off day remains quite controversial. Eyebrows have been raised in the Phillies’ clubhouse as to why the closer could not go. Papelbon did not pitch Wednesday or Thursday in Toronto (see story). He warmed up twice and pitched an inning in Friday’s win, and warmed up once and pitched an inning in Saturday’s win. He threw a total of 21 pitches in those two games, yet was too sore to answer the bell Sunday.
After Sunday's game, Papelbon cited that hardly excessive workload as the reason for his soreness.
On Tuesday, Papelbon added that the artificial turf in Toronto might have contributed. He did not pitch in Toronto, but stretched and went through some pre-game workouts.
Papelbon was asked if he regretted not pitching Sunday.
“No,” Papelbon said Tuesday afternoon. “I’ve pitched through soreness before. This was different. It was basically a soreness where I wasn’t comfortable throwing. I felt like I could create more injury. Instead of missing 30 or 40 or 50 games, I decided it would be best for my team and my career to maybe sit one out.”
Papelbon, who complained of neck and back soreness, said he felt better when he woke up Tuesday.
On Sunday, the pitcher mentioned the possibility that he became sore because he warmed up a few times over the weekend.
Sandberg said Papelbon’s warmup time was not unusual for a pair of close games.
“It was not excessive,” Sandberg said.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. did not fault Papelbon for opting out of work Sunday. He said he was OK with Papelbon’s explanation.
“I don’t think there is anything specific,” Amaro said. “His back and his neck was bothering him. He’s available tonight. Just like anybody else, he has some mileage, and we have to keep an eye on these guys. If by not having him pitch one game so he can pitch 30 more, then that’s what we’ll do.”
It’s important for a team to have a closer who can pitch three days in a row. What if this were October? Could Papelbon have pitched?
“Yeah,” Papelbon said. “I would have probably gotten maybe a shot of Toradol and said, ‘Screw it.’ But it’s not a postseason game so I didn’t.”
Sandberg said he did not believe Papelbon’s workload on Friday and Saturday -- three warmups and 21 pitches -- was excessive, and he made it clear that he needs his closer to be ready for games.
“We need a closer that can go three games in a row and close three games, no question about that,” he said. “He was up and down a couple times on Friday and that's just normal baseball stuff. Then he had seven pitches and 14 pitches. So I need him to go out that third day and be our closer in a series like that, in any scenario like that.”
Sandberg spoke to Papelbon on Tuesday just to make sure the closer had no arm problems. Papelbon assured Sandberg he was fine, that he just had soreness in his back and neck and was ready to go.
The manager was asked whether he was confident that he’d have Papelbon three days in a row when the situation calls for it.
“I sure hope so,” he said. “That's his job.”