After initial reluctance, Papelbon agrees to first career DL stint

Jonathan Papelbon had never spent a day on the disabled list in his 12-year career, and he certainly didn't want to end that streak now after feeling a tug on his right side while throwing a warmup pitch before the top of the ninth of Sunday's game.

But after meeting with Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, manager Dusty Baker and pitching coach Mike Maddux late Monday night, Papelbon came to the realization a DL stint was in both his and the team's best interests.

"I've taken a lot of pride on never being on the disabled list," he said this afternoon. "I think in my situation here, we gotta make the smart decision. It's early in the season. There's no reason to push anything right now, I believe."

Jonathan Papelbon throwing blue.jpgOfficially, Papelbon was placed on the 15-day DL with a strain of an intercostal muscle in his right ribcage. Though no formal timetable has been given for his return, Papelbon figures to need time first to let the strain heal before then resuming a throwing program.

The 35-year-old closer suffered the injury while throwing a warmup pitch before his appearance in the top of the ninth Sunday against the Phillies, an outing in which he gave up a solo homer to Maikel Franco that left the Nationals in a 4-3 hole before they rallied to win 5-4 in the bottom of the inning.

Papelbon was among the first to race out of the dugout to greet Jayson Werth after the latter's game-winning single, and it's possible he exacerbated the injury during the celebration.

"If you feel something, that doesn't mean that you're hurt," Baker said. "If you feel something ... how do you not celebrate? That was probably one of the most enjoyable games of the year. No, it probably wasn't wise, but how often do we do unwise things?"

Papelbon didn't think the injury was severe at first, and he reported to the ballpark Monday prepared to pitch if needed. But others noticed something wasn't right with him, and he informed club officials of the ailment. He wound up in the dugout during the ninth inning, watching as Shawn Kelley closed out the Nationals' 4-1 win over the Cubs.

"We didn't think anything of it," Baker said. "But then when he came in the next day all crooked and he couldn't straighten out, you know something was wrong."

Papelbon said he feels the strain when he tries to extend his right arm after throwing a pitch.

"It's not hard to generate," he said. "It's just hard to stop."

Though he has successfully converted 16 of his 18 save opportunities so far this season, Papelbon has walked a tightrope and survived several times. He heads to the DL with a 3.28 ERA in 25 appearances, a career-worst 1.338 WHIP and only 19 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings.

That this is his first DL stint in a 12-year career that has included 365 saves (10th most in history) is remarkable to teammates.

"That's unbelievably amazing," said Kelley, who had Tommy John surgery twice when he was younger. "I've been on it a lot early in my career, so I can counsel him if he needs any. That just shows you the testament to his durability. I'm assuming he probably still didn't want to go on now. He's a tough guy. That's insane to me because I was a guy that could barely stay off of it."

Papelbon indeed didn't want to take the next 15 days (probably more) off, but he had new perspective on the situation after meeting with Rizzo and fellow club officials.

"Mike's been great and explained the decision, and I agree with Mike," the pitcher said. "He's always, in my opinion, always looked out for the best for his players, and that's what he's doing right now. A lot of general managers will just say: 'Get out there as soon as you can,' and he's looking at it in a different light. If it was up to me, I would probably run back out there as soon as I could. But I think this is a smart decision. And sleeping on it last night, after listening to what Mike Rizzo told me, it was a smart decision. It's not about the outcome right now. It's about the end outcome, and I want to be healthy and strong towards the end of the season."

Gonzalez laboring vs. Cubs lineup (Nats lose 4-3)
Game 65 lineups: Nats vs. Cubs

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