It's widely accepted that a team is not going to get the most out of its closer in non-save situations, but Jonathan Papelbon's outing on Tuesday night stretched that idea to the limit.
The closer entered the game in the ninth inning with the Red Sox trailing 5-1. The good news was that he needed just 18 pitches to retire the side. The bad news was that the Orioles only needed 18 pitches to score four runs on five hits.
While the outing helped raise Papelbon's ERA to a career-high 3.92 and WHIP to 1.19, manager Terry Francona doesn't see the bad inning as a reason to make wholesale changes to his bullpen.
"Good day to ask about Paps — he's still about fourth in the league in saves," Francona said before Wednesday's game, though Papelbon is actually tied for third in the AL. "Whether you call them hiccups or inconsistencies, the walks are up, which has made his innings harder, [but his] velocity is still good."
With Daniel Bard pitching well as the setup man, the questions of moving the 25-year-old into the closer's role are sure to increase. Francona insists that such a change is not imminent.
"I also don't think that means you take that guy out of that role for a couple of reasons," Francona explained. "One is that it upsets what you got, and the other one is that the guy everyone is complaining about — where do you think he's gonna pitch? If you take your closer and make him your setup guy, all of the people you don't want him to face he's [facing] with men on. I never quite understood that.
"You better have a good closer and you better have a good rest of the bullpen," he added, attributing most of Papelbon's struggles to the hit-or-miss nature of his splitter. "If you're short somewhere, you get exposed."
Papelbon certainly got exposed on Tuesday, but it didn't affect his confidence.
"I thought my delivery was good," Papelbon said Tuesday night after the outing. "I thought I threw the ball well, thought the ball came out of my hand well. The outcome wasn't good but I thought I threw the ball well."
Papelbon, who's made a career out of rising in big situations, admitted that the lack of pressure contributed somewhat to his poor outing.
"You look at the situation, in the ballgame that we were in, it is what it is," he said. "It's coming in to try to get some work in, and [the Orioles] came out swinging the bats and ambushing some first pitches. The outing kinda snowballed."
For Papelbon, it was the third time this season he's allowed four earned runs in one outing and the second time in his last four outings. In his last four outings, in fact, he's given up nine earned runs in 4 1/3 innings, good for an 18.69 ERA.