After “whirlwind” day, Melancon ready to close for Nationals

SAN FRANCISCO - Mark Melancon was in Milwaukee on Saturday afternoon, preparing for the Pirates’ game against the Brewers, when he was told he had been traded to the Nationals and needed to get to San Francisco as soon as possible.

Melancon gathered his stuff, communicated with his wife (who is taking care of the couple’s three young children, all 4 or younger, back in Pittsburgh), raced to the airport and then waited for his flight to Phoenix, which was delayed.

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He eventually made it to Phoenix, where his connecting flight to San Francisco had also been delayed. By the time he finally landed in the Bay Area, it was 2 a.m. PDT. He woke up four hours later and, after gathering his wits, made his way to AT&T Park, where a locker with his name and uniform (No. 43, for those wondering) was waiting for him, along with an entire clubhouse of new teammates from a first-place club that hopes it just acquired the final big piece to a championship.

“Gives you a nice little boost, I know that,” Melancon said. “For me, it was really exciting. A whirlwind of a day yesterday, but I’m here and everything’s going great.”

The Nationals probably would prefer not to need Melancon’s services in today’s series finale against the Giants, letting him have a chance to rest and get used to his new surroundings. But if the situation arises and they hold a slim lead in the ninth inning, manager Dusty Baker won’t hesitate to call upon him to close out the game. This is why they just traded for him, sending reliever Felipe Rivero and Single-A left-hander Taylor Hearn to the Pirates.

And if that happens, Melancon insists he’ll be ready for the challenge. He’s been traded four times now in the last six years, including three consecutive seasons from 2010-12, so he knows how to deal with it.

“Yeah, very much so,” he said. “I was telling my wife: ‘Hey, it’s all in God’s hands, and we can’t do anything about it. So, no need to worry about it and stress about it. Just do what I need to do between the lines, and other than that, we’ll just go as we’re told.’”

Melancon said he already knows a handful of Nationals teammates from past interactions, most notably Anthony Rendon, Max Scherzer and Chris Heisey. He also made a point to exchange text messages on Saturday with Jonathan Papelbon, whose job he is taking at the back end of the Nats’ bullpen.

“It was between flights and the game and all that stuff, so it was tough,” Melancon said. “But he’s been awesome about it. It’s a tough situation. I understand that. Like he said, we’re here to win a championship, whatever it takes.”

It remains unclear what role exactly Papelbon (who has been a big league closer each of the last 11 seasons) will now hold, but the 35-year-old said Saturday he’ll do whatever is asked of him.

“We’re fighting for a championship, this is what it takes to achieve it,” Papelbon said. “I think everyone being on the same page and playing for a common goal is what it takes.”

Melancon concurred. He was a part of one of baseball’s best bullpens in Pittsburgh for several seasons, and he thinks he knows what makes a good relief corps.

“Camaraderie is definitely up there,” the 31-year-old said. “It’s important that everybody’s rooting for each other. Just pass the baton on and get it done. Everybody has each other’s back. Obviously talent takes care of itself, but camaraderie, I’d say, is key.”

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