Lopez to start Saturday; could Papelbon be headed to DL?

SAN FRANCISCO - Reynaldo Lopez will, as anticipated, start Saturday afternoon’s game against the Giants, forcing the Nationals to make a corresponding roster move that could tie directly in with their current closer dilemma.

With Lopez set to be recalled from Triple-A Syracuse for his second career start, the Nationals will need to drop one of the eight relievers on their active 25-man roster. And it’s possible that reliever could be Jonathan Papelbon, who has struggled mightily in his last three appearances and Thursday night was yanked by manager Dusty Baker three batters into the ninth inning with his velocity noticeably diminished.

The Nationals are keeping their plans close to the vest, but Baker hinted today that Papelbon was going to be examined.

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“We’re going to check and see today,” Baker said. “His velocity was down. We all noticed that. So I don’t have an answer.”

General manager Mike Rizzo was less concerned about Papelbon’s health and more about the closer’s performance of late.

“I trust what he tells me,” Rizzo said. “And he hasn’t indicated to me that he’s not healthy. ... You pay attention to (the radar gun readings), sure. It was a little bit low, but he’s pitched a lot lately. It’s not drastically low. He’s usually at 90-92 (mph) and he was, what, 88-90 last night.”

As for Baker’s decision to unceremoniously remove Papelbon from Thursday night’s game with the Nationals two outs from victory and still leading by three runs, Rizzo offered a full endorsement.

“I thought the manager made the right call,” the GM said. “He was ineffective. And you’ve got to win the game. The point is to get the last three outs.”

The Nationals did win the game, with Oliver Perez recording the second out of the inning and Shawn Kelley recording the final out. The question now, though, is what they plan to do tonight and moving forward if they carry a slim lead into the ninth.

“I’ve had time to think about it,” Baker said. “We’ll see when we get there. All that’s going to do is just, if I do what I tell you now (and) then I change my mind, then: ‘How come you didn’t do that?’ or ‘I thought you said you were going to do that.’ So not wanting to make a story, we’ll just see when we get there.”

Whether Papelbon remains part of the picture in the short-term or long-term is a matter for debate. The Nationals already had been inquiring with other clubs about acquiring late-inning relievers before Papelbon’s recent struggles. Rizzo insisted the last few days have not changed his approach heading into Monday’s trade deadline.

“No, believe it or not, there’s a lot of closers that go through the same thing he’s going through,” Rizzo said. “There’s a guy in New York doing the same thing. There’s guys everywhere that blow saves. It’s part of the position. And it’s part of his job description. You’ve got to have a short memory and then perform the next time you’re called upon.”

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