- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Earlier Tuesday, former Washington Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard was introduced by his new team, the New York Mets, following a trade from the Oakland Athletics. Seeing the bespectacled Clippard in Mets colors was an oddity, even though he had been gone for half a season. Hearing him speak out was not.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun chasing down my old teammates in Washington,” Clippard told reporters.

The Nationals’ swaying bullpen ended up with its fresh voice by the end of day, when rabble-rousing closer Jonathan Papelbon was acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for minor-league pitcher Nick Pivetta, the team announced. The Nationals picked up Papelbon’s contract option for 2016 and will make him their closer.

Papelbon’s skills are not in question. The 34-year-old made his sixth all-star appearance this season, and arrives in Washington in the middle of his best season since 2006, when he was with the Boston Red Sox. His numbers are well-fed: An 1.59 ERA, a strikeout per inning, only 1.8 walks per nine innings and an 0.98 WHIP.

Demoted closer Drew Storen is rolling through his second-best season with the Nationals. He has a 1.73 ERA, strikes out 10.9 batters per nine innings and is right behind Papelbon with an 1.02 WHIP.

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo told reporters in Miami that Papelbon is the “ninth-inning pitcher” and that Storen will now set up and pitch in the ninth on nights Papelbon is not available. Rizzo said he spoke to Storen prior to making the trade, and that Storen took the news “like a pro.”

Storen has struggled in the playoffs. He has a 8.44 postseason ERA and gorillas on his back after a lost lead last season against the San Francisco Giants and a blown save against the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012.

Papelbon has excelled in October. In 18 appearances, he has a 1.00 ERA after allowing three runs in 2009 while a member of the Boston Red Sox. He had previously pitched 25 consecutive scoreless innings in the playoffs.

Pivetta was drafted by the Nationals in the fourth round in 2013. He was elevated to Double-A Harrisburg this season, where he struggled, though he appeared in only three games. Earlier in the year, the 6-foot-5 right-handed reliever was effective for Single-A Potomac, posting a 2.29 ERA.

The Nationals will also be taking on salary by adding Papelbon. His contract called for a $13 million salary in 2016, but the Nationals reworked the vesting option in Papelbon’s contract to become a guaranteed $11 million salary for 2016.

In addition to hunting a deal for Papelbon, the Nationals reportedly were in trade talks with the San Diego Padres about closer Craig Kimbrel and the Cincinnati Reds about closer Aroldis Chapman. All the chatter was a result of an unsteady bullpen affected by injury and under-performance.

Craig Stammen’s season ended in April after he tore a right flexor muscle. David Carpenter was acquired off waivers, but was placed on the disabled list July 17, retroactive to July 12, because of shoulder inflammation. Last week, he had an MRI and injection of anti-inflammatories in the shoulder. At that point, Carpenter was in wait-and-see mode.

Blake Treinen struggled against left-handers out and was demoted to Triple-A Syracuse on July 20. Aaron Barrett has numbers, an 1.13 WHIP and a 5.33:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, that suggest his ERA should be lower than 4.21. His fielding-independent pitching mark of 2.13 also shows his ERA should be significantly lower.

Handling their jobs in the bullpen have been left-handers Matt Thornton and Felipe Rivero. The veteran Thornton has a 1.85 ERA, with left-handers hitting .167 against him. Rivero has been exceptional during his first stint in the major leagues. His 1.96 ERA is in line with Thornton’s numbers, and he is striking out a batter per inning.

Of late, Casey Janssen has been more effective. Entering Tuesday’s game against the Miami Marlins, Janssen had allowed two hits, walked none and struck out seven in five appearances since the all-star break.

The Mets, starting the night two games behind the Nationals in the National League East, had problems of their own in the bullpen before trading for Clippard. Those issues were exacerbated Tuesday when Jenrry Meija failed a second performance-enhancing drug test, according to Major League Baseball, and was suspended 162 games after missing the first 80 games of the season because of a previously failed drug test.

The addition of Papelbon provides the Nationals with a chance to model their bullpen after the Kansas City Royals of last season, and teams with multiple “closers” in the past. The Royals pushed through the American League playoffs and into the 2014 World Series in large part because of a dominant bullpen that was able to manage innings seven through nine — and even the sixth when necessary.

The concept is also similar to the model the New York Yankees used during Mariano Rivera’s early years, when he was the setup man and John Wetteland was the closer in 1996, and later in Rivera’s career, when the Yankees layered multiple arms in front of him once he became the closer.

In those instances, the bullpen pecking order was created from within and in line well before the playoffs. An obscene-gesturing, cigar-chomping force such as Papelbon, for better or worse, had not been acquired just after the all-star break during a make-or-break season for a team filled with multiple players in the final season of their contracts.

If nothing else, nights at Nationals Park just earned a fresh dose of intrigue, not just this season, but beyond. 

• Todd Dybas can be reached at tdybas@washingtontimes.com.

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