PHOENIX -- Jonathan Papelbon seemed none too sharp in the 10th inning at Chase Field on Saturday night and none to pleased about it. It had been six days since the Boston closer made his last appearance, and on that Sunday night at Fenway Park, Papelbon had allowed the ninth-inning Alex Rodriguez homer that lost a key game to the Yankees. Against the Diamondbacks in another one-run game, Papelbon's pitches were all over the place. And it took 24 of them to five batters in the bottom of the 10th inning before he nailed down the 4-3 win.
"If you haven't pitched in [six] days it's hard to be Grade A," the right-hander said after recording his 14th save in 15 opportunities. "It's tough to stay sharp. I just have to grind it, man. That's what I have to do. And if I've got to do it, I've got to do it. I don't have any other choice." Throwing 97-mph fastballs, Papelbon hit one batter (Chris Young) and nearly hit another (Conor Jackson), the latter ultimately legging out an infield hit in the hole between shortstop and third base. With Young running from second on the pitch, rookie Mark Reynolds, who only recently made the jump from Double-A to the Major Leagues, broke his bat softly lining it to second baseman Alex Cora, ending the threat and the game. It wasn't picture perfect, but it got the job done. "He's not on any 10-pitch threshold or anything, we just want him to get outs," Red Sox manager said about the 26-year-old right-hander who was converted from a starter to a closer last season. "It's just touch and feel in the bullpen. We don't want to get him up and waste him. We value his innings. We want him to be as fresh late in the season as he is now." The question in Papelbon's mind is simple: when is fresh, too fresh? Circumstances kept him out of games for the previous five days. Francona didn't use him in a close game on Monday night at Oakland because Papelbon had pitched in the final two games of the Yankee series. And then on Thursday in a 1-0 cliffhanger against the A's, Curt Schilling happened to be pitching a no-hitter so Papelbon didn't get his usual look in the ninth. Schilling lost the no-hitter with one out to go, but he still finished and won the game. Papelbon wasn't sure what pattern he'd prefer to remain fresh.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.