Jonathan Papelbon cruised through a 1-2-3 inning in the first minor league rehab appearance of his career, moving a step closer to rejoining the Nationals bullpen.
Pitching for high Single-A Potomac, Papelbon retired the side in the top of the first inning against Winston-Salem. Given a chance to start and get his work in quickly before making the short drive back up Interstate-95 to Washington, Papelbon recorded a flyout to center field, a swinging strikeout and then a groundout to second base.
The 35-year-old closer has been on the disabled list since June 13 with a strained right ribcage muscle, the first time he has occupied the DL in his lengthy career.
The Nationals weren't saying for sure earlier today how much time Papelbon would need on rehab, though manager Dusty Baker suggested the right-hander would probably need to pitch in at least one more game before being activated.
"It depends how sharp he is," Baker said. "I imagine his velocity will probably be up. He'll probably want to come back sooner rather than later. But I would choose to have him come back when all of us feel he's ready, sharpness-wise. Because it's been killing him to be sitting in the dugout while we're losing. But we have to put that aide and do what's best for him and what's best for us in the long run."
Update: We've got a barnburner here at the ballpark tonight, with a ton of offense already. The Mets stormed out to a 4-0 lead off Joe Ross, who has been hit hard throughout. But then the Nats stormed back and plated five runs off Noah Syndergaard in the bottom of the third. Yes, a five-run inning. They batted around, getting RBI hits from Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and Danny Espinosa. And that made up for a first-inning rally that was thwarted when they stranded the bases loaded with nobody out.
Ross, meanwhile, needs to right his ship after a shaky start to his evening. He already gave up a career-high nine hits in only three innings. But Dusty Baker is sticking with the young right-hander, hoping to avoid his bullpen so early in this game.
Update II: Holy cow, has the tone of this game changed dramatically, or what? The Nationals have scored 10 unanswered runs in the last three innings. Yes, that's 10 unanswered runs in three innings. They followed up their five-run third off Syndergaard with one run in the fourth off Sean Gilmartin (via Daniel Murphy's RBI single) and then a four-run fifth also off Gilmartin. Big hits that inning came from Espinosa (now 3-for-3), Ben Revere (3-for-4 with three stolen bases) and Jayson Werth (1-for-2, double, two walks). And the biggest benefactor of all that has been Ross, who has completely turned his night around, retiring nine straight. It's 10-4 Nats after five innings of a crazy ballgame.
Update III: Make it 11-4 after seven, thans to a sac fly by Rendon that expanded the lead. Ross departed after six gutsy innings, then Felipe Rivero pitched out of a jam in the top of the seventh. Harper appeared to tweak his left leg while beating out a grounder to first. He stayed in the game for a bit, but now is being replaced by Michael A. Taylor in the top of the eighth.
Update IV: That's your ballgame. Nats win 11-4, scoring 11 unanswered runs to blow out the Mets in this series opener. They increase their lead over New York to four games, with the idle Marlins now alone in second place 3 1/2 games back. Next up: Lucas Giolito's major league debut tomorrow night vs. Matt Harvey.
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