Papelbon determined to be positive influence
Phillies closer excited by new manager, confident after offseason training
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Jonathan Papelbon swears again this time will be different.
Last spring, Papelbon sat at a picnic table behind Bright House Field and talked about a lack of leadership in the Phillies' clubhouse and how he planned to be a solution to the problem. When the season began and the Phils started to lose, Papelbon said in July changes needed to be made top to bottom in the organization, and he indicated more than once he was not happy in Philadelphia.
The Phillies actively tried to trade Papelbon in the offseason, partly because they felt he no longer fit with the clubhouse atmosphere, but they found no takers. So he returned to Phils camp this month, and on Monday afternoon, he sat at a table along the left-field line, where he promised again to be a better leader and a more positive influence in the clubhouse.
"What I haven't done is carry a positive demeanor and a positive attitude," Papelbon said. "I think losing can affect you and losing can make everything become more negative. It can exaggerate everything and make it worse. I think at times I allowed losing to get to me and make things become more negative than what they may or may not have been. I'm definitely trying to be a lot more of a positive influence and be more upbeat."
Papelbon said he is not a bad teammate.
"I'd break my back for my teammates," he said. "I'd do anything. They're my brothers. I'm with them more than my family. If you could ask all 25 guys in there, I live and die for my teammates."
Yet the Phillies' efforts to trade Papelbon not only in the offseason, but before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, might mean there is a difference of opinion regarding his influence in the clubhouse. For his part, Papelbon said no one has said as much to him.
"No, we haven't talked about that," he said. "I said that my teammates know me and they know I'll break my back for them. I don't think that's ever been any issue in any clubhouse I've been in. So I think you can take that and run with it however you want to run with it."
Papelbon said he believes things will improve this season because manager Ryne Sandberg is making a concerted effort to change things.
"Every morning we have a meeting and Ryno talks about energy and spark," Papelbon said. "Bringing it every day. Last year and the year previous, we didn't have that. We were losing games, and I feel like we let losing get the best of us. I let it get to me just as much as anybody. That's a tough thing to do. As an athlete, we come out here and prepare and put so much hard work into it. When it doesn't pay off, it's a hard thing to deal with.
"If you can't buy into your manager, you're not going to buy into anything."
Asked if he did not buy into former manager Charlie Manuel, Papelbon said, "When Charlie was here, there was already a set environment. There was already a set way of things to do. And they were winning, they were winning, then all of a sudden it hits rock bottom. Literally within a year you start losing. So I think that just took on a whole life of its own. Not that I didn't buy into it. I bought right in."
If the Phils plan to rebound from an 89-loss season in 2013, they will need Papelbon to pitch like the guy that signed a four-year, $50 million contract in November 2011. He went 5-1 with a 2.92 ERA in 61 appearances last season, but blew seven of 36 save opportunities. Papelbon's 80.6 save percentage ranked 29th out of 32 closers with 20 or more save opportunities.
It could be a result of lesser stuff. Papelbon has lost nearly 3 mph off his fastball the past two seasons, which could account for the lowest strikeout rate of his career. He acknowledged pitching in meaningless games might have had something to do with it, but he also said he was not completely healthy.
Papelbon battled at least a hip issue last season.
"I had some stuff barking on me," he said.
Papelbon said he feels "great" entering camp.
"I'm real confident," he said. "I trained this offseason harder than I have almost every offseason. I've come into this camp probably better than I have in my entire career. I feel good and all I can say is that only time will tell. I don't think velo has a lot to do with anything, to be honest with you. It is nice to throw 95-plus every night. But that's not what it takes to get through this league and through a 162-game baseball season. I think it's deeper than that. I think it's mental makeup and ability and grinding. It takes a lot of different things."
But what happens if the Phillies start slowly? Will Papelbon keep up the positivity? He carried the same message into last spring, too.
"I think we have different personnel in place," he said. "I think we have a whole new team, a whole new group of guys, a new manager, new guys in the bullpen. It is different."
Time will tell.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.