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Nationals' closer Jonathan Papelbon damaging his reputation by helping teammates

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Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo talked last month about the decision to bring Jonathan Papelbon back after last season's dugout altercation with Bryce Harper. Joe Ross talked recently about Papelbon helping to teach him a splitter.

Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

According to reports from Viera, there were "audible boos" from the crowd in Space Coast Stadium when Washington Nationals' closer Jonathan Papelbon took the mound for his 2016 Grapefruit League debut on Sunday afternoon.

Papelbon retired the three Miami Marlins he faced in order to earn the Spring Training save. The crowd's reaction to the volatile reliever wasn't the big story involving the veteran closer after the game, however, since second-year starter Joe Ross shared a story with reporters that cast Papelbon in a different light.

Ross featured a new offering in his second outing of the Spring, a split finger fastball he said Papelbon suggested, thinking it would be a good addition to his fastball/slider combination.

"If there was a problem with the personnel, if there was a problem with character on the ballclub, if there was a cancer in the clubhouse, we have shown in the past that we cut that out and get rid of it really, really quickly..." -Mike Rizzo on 106.7 the FAN in D.C.

"He said that was a big pitch he learned from [Curt] Schilling when he was in Boston," Ross explained, as quoted by reporters including Washington Post writer Chelsea Janes.

"I thought if Schilling throws a splitter, and teaches Papelbon to throw a splitter, I should probably try it," Ross added.

Ross has been working on his change, which he used sparingly last season, to give him another option after he threw 57.2% fastballs and 35.6% sliders in his first major league run.

"[I]f I can work on [the splitter] and, say the changeup isn't there in a game," he said, as quoted by MASNSports.com's Pete Kerzel, "I've got an alternative and not... be so fastball-slider dominant."

Papelbon reportedly checked in with Ross after the outing as well, to see how he felt throwing the pitch.

While it's not going to erase the memory of his late-season dugout altercation with Bryce Harper, which led many to believe the 35-year-old reliever would not return to the nation's capital this season, it is in keeping with the Papelbon the Nats have tried to present while "defending" the decision to keep the veteran reliever in D.C.

Rizzo talked earlier this Spring about how he thought fans would react to Papelbon's return, especially after Drew Storen, a fan-favorite, was dealt this winter.

"He's a great teammate. He's one of those guys that when he's on your team, you love him, when he's on the other team, you hate him, but the bottom line is he's a successful relief pitcher." -Mike Rizzo on Jonathan Papelbon on 106.7 the FAN in D.C.

"I think that the fan base has to trust that we're doing what's best for the baseball team and both in the clubhouse, chemistry-wise and for performance on the field," Rizzo said.

Asked in an interview with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier last month about considering fan anger towards Papelbon this winter when he was making roster decisions, Rizzo reiterated that the Nationals did their due diligence before they acquired the right-hander from the Philadelphia Phillies last July.

"The thing is that, I know the personnel and the players better than anybody," Rizzo explained.

"So, if there was a problem with the personnel, if there was a problem with character on the ballclub, if there was a cancer in the clubhouse, we have shown in the past that we cut that out and get rid of it really, really quickly.

"If I thought that that was the case with Jonathan Papelbon, he would be gone. I do not feel that's the case."

"His teammates in Boston, Philadelphia and here in Washington love the guy," Rizzo said.

"He's a great teammate. He's one of those guys that when he's on your team, you love him, when he's on the other team, you hate him, but the bottom line is he's a successful relief pitcher, he's a good closer, he's been a great closer through his career.

"His numbers are even stronger the last two years than they have been career-wise. He's been there at the brightest lights in the biggest games and has performed admirably: 27 [postseason] innings pitched, 1.00 ERA, World Series championship on the mound for the last out, pretty darn good, hard to replace and a good guy to all his teammates and everybody that has ever been around him."

Is any of this going to change anyone's mind about the volatile closer?

Will Papelbon's performance on the mound sway opinion? Does it matter if fans like him if he gets his job done and is a valuable teammate and mentor?