Jonathan Papelbon was having a decent spring—that is, until his fourth outing, where he allowed three earned runs on a hit, three walks and a hit batter in just one third of an inning of work.
However, he followed up that performance with a clean inning of work against the New York Yankees. All is perfect in paradise? Not quite.
In his next game, his sixth of the spring, he allowed four earned runs on a hit batter, two walks and two doubles. His spring ERA has ballooned to 12.60.
Should we be concerned about Papelbon? The four-time All-Star is coming off the worst year of his career, one in which he suffered a 3.90 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, eight blown saves and a 3.8 BB/9, all career highs.
To be fair, it is only spring training after all. He hasn't exactly been simulating the adrenaline filled ninth inning of real major league games, and it's not as if Pap's spring has been a complete wreck: four of his six outings have been clean.
But there are a few red flags here, most noticeably his 9.0 BB/9 ratio in just 5.0 innings of work. Walks were what plagued Pap most in 2010 (he set a career high with 28), and they've certainly been the biggest issue for him this spring.
Mechanics, which have been admittedly up and down for the better part of his last two seasons, have also been points of concern. But, not to Papelbon:
"I feel like I'm still locked in on my mechanics, just a tick off. I'm not searching. I know exactly what's going on in my delivery, and for me, it's not a big deal at all, because it's just a minor little detail for me," he said.
"I'm trying to get my delivery where it's perfect every day, and right now it's just not. It's just spring, you know."
This spring was supposed to be about revamping his mechanics and gaining command of his slider, which hasn't been much more than a fourth pitch he throws every now and then to keep hitters honest.
Instead, this spring has been about the continued struggles of Papelbon and how there are suitable options waiting over his shoulder. While that won't dissuade Terry Francona from silencing the masses and declaring Papelbon his definitive closer, there will always be those questioning the skipper if Papelbon starts 2011 on a rough note.
It would be unfair for us to judge Pap so quickly. Doing so would only be a knee-jerk reaction to what we perceive as his struggles in 2010, not a fair evaluation of his performance.
Pap has only pitched five total innings this spring. Mentally shipping him out of town so soon is a laughable idea.
Perhaps Jonathan Papelbon's best trait is his ability to put poor games and stretches past him. He always has a deaf ear to the media and he's same fiery dude out there on the mound each night. In this instance, this characteristic would serve him well.
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