Papelbon impressive in first spring outing

Papelbon impressive in first spring outing

Papelbon impressive in first spring outing
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- On the other side of the field, the big story Tuesday afternoon at Hammond Stadium was Joe Nathan, Minnesota's star closer who was pitching for the first time since undergoing Tommy John surgery a year ago.

Jonathan Papelbon isn't rehabbing any body parts. Instead, Boston's closer is trying to restore his status and get back to the elite pitcher he was in his first four seasons before he struggled last year.

From the day Spring Training started, Papelbon has walked around the Red Sox's clubhouse with a T-shirt that reads "Doubt Me." Papelbon is aware that there might be some doubt about him after a career-high eight blown saves last year, and perhaps that will drive him.

In Papelbon's first outing of Spring Training, he certainly looked locked in, needing just six pitches -- five of them strikes -- to finish his inning. He got two groundouts and a popup.

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Late last season, Papelbon rediscovered his mechanics. He tried to bottle them over the winter and keep them this spring.

"I was pleased," Papelbon said of Tuesday's outing. "You know, it's something I've taken from the end of the season -- the last couple of months last year, when I was throwing the ball really well -- and have tried to take it into this spring, and it looks like I've been able to do it."

The Red Sox have retooled their setup crew, bringing in Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler to help Daniel Bard. If Papelbon can regain his form, Boston's bullpen could develop into one of the best in the league.

"I thought Pap was good," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "He was down. He got the bunt play, then he got the comebacker. He threw the ball well. He wasn't flying all over the place. He stayed closed. He threw the ball downhill. We'll take that any day."