Nationals suspend closer Papelbon 4 games for fight
Washington — Washington Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon will miss the rest of the season after his dugout fight with teammate Bryce Harper — four games because of a team suspension for that episode and three games because he dropped his appeal of a Major League Baseball ban for throwing at an opponent’s head last week.
Nationals manager Matt Williams said Harper, a leading NL MVP contender, was held out of the starting lineup for Monday’s home finale against Cincinnati for “his part in the altercation” with Papelbon on Sunday.
Harper, though, said after Sunday’s game that he was scheduled to be off Monday.
“It’s been a very difficult 24 hours for the organization,” Williams said at his pregame news conference, which started 11/2 hours later than scheduled. “Incidents like that in the dugout (are) not the way we want to play our games.”
On Sunday, after Harper flied out in the eighth inning against Philadelphia, he headed to the dugout, where he and Papelbon exchanged words. The argument escalated, and Papelbon reached out with his left hand and grabbed Harper by the throat.
Papelbon then shoved the outfielder toward the bench with both hands, before teammates and members of Williams’ coaching staff pulled the pair apart.
Williams was at the other end of the dugout and, he said Monday, was not aware of exactly what happened until later in the day, when he saw video that made the rounds on Twitter immediately after the scrap. Williams said he hadn’t seen that video before his postgame news conference Sunday and hadn’t sought information from his coaches or other players during the game. He added that because he was unaware of the extent of the confrontation, he sent Papelbon back out to pitch in the ninth inning.
“I could have asked for more specifics,” Williams said Monday.
When he eventually did see video of Papelbon clutching at Harper’s neck, Williams said, “I was upset. I was appalled.”
But he also made it sound as if a truly bothersome aspect was that everyone saw what happened.
“Generally, this happens between players in the confines of a private clubhouse. It doesn’t happen in the open, generally,” Williams said. “So that being said, that’s how we would prefer to do it.”
Reds star Joey Votto sounded a similar note.
“I think it’s great, to be honest with you. Nobody got hurt. I imagine that they probably settled it and that’s the sort of thing that helps create an equilibrium in the clubhouse. Both guys stood up for themselves,” Votto said. “That sort of thing happens, just oftentimes it doesn’t happen on a bench or in front of a camera. It’s nothing. It’s totally nothing.”
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo did not speak to reporters before Monday’s game; the Nationals said he would hold a news conference afterward. In the team’s statement announcing its suspension of Papelbon — and his waiving of his appeal of the MLB suspension — Rizzo called what Papelbon did “not acceptable” and “not at all in line with the way our players are expected to conduct themselves.”
Papelbon was acquired from the Phillies in a trade in late July in hopes of a possible postseason push.
On Wednesday, the reliever plunked Baltimore star Manny Machado and was ejected; Harper called the hit-by-pitch “tired” and worried aloud about whether the Orioles would retaliate by beaning him. MLB announced a three-game suspension but Papelbon appealed, allowing him to continue playing.
That suspension began Monday and ends Wednesday; the team suspension starts Thursday.
Williams said he does not expect Papelbon to be with the Nationals on their season-ending road trip that begins Tuesday in Atlanta, then finishes at the New York Mets.
The Nationals are due to pay Papelbon $11 million in 2016. Asked whether Papelbon can fit into the Nationals’ plans for next season, Williams answered: “As it sits right now, Jonathan’s part of that, so we have to get past that and we have to come together as a team.”
Harper entered Sunday leading the league in batting average (.339), homers (41), slugging percentage (.663) and on-base percentage (.470).
The Nationals began the season as World Series favorites, but their playoff hopes officially ended Saturday, when the Mets clinched the NL East title.
“This has been a very disappointing season,” Williams said. “Everybody understands that.”