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Nationals' closer Jonathan Papelbon bends... but doesn't break vs Phillies

The trends for Jonathan Papelbon aren't positive, but he's managed to save 14 of 16 games so far for the Washington Nationals. Can he keep walking the high wire? Will the trends lead to the Nationals making a change in the late innings?

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Papelbon gave up back-to-back doubles to start the bottom of the ninth inning last night, with Maikel Franco and Ryan Howard sending screaming liners to left field. Howard's drove Franco in from second to get the Philadelphia Phillies within one run at 4-3 with no one out.

With the tying run on second base, Papelbon struck pinch hitter Tommy Joseph out with an 0-2 slider and got Cesar Hernandez to chase a 2-2 fastball outside for back-to-back strikeouts.

"But Pap, he may bend, but he doesn't break. This guy, man, I mean what do you say about the guts and stomach he has." -Dusty Baker on Nationals' closer Jonathan Papelbon

Phillies' left fielder Tyler Goeddel stepped in next and hit a soft liner to second for out No. 3 of Washington's closer's 14th save in 16 opportunities this season.

"Last time we came in here Pap had an unfortunate outing and we were like, 'Nah, it couldn't happen again,'" Dusty Baker told reporters after the Nationals' 4-3 win, referring to Papelbon's first of two blown saves this season, back on April 17th in Citizens Bank Park.

"But Pap, he may bend, but he doesn't break. This guy, man, I mean what do you say about the guts and stomach he has."

His fastball velocity is down some (90.7 mph from 91.4 last season) and opposing hitters have a .289 AVG against his four-seamer this season, up from .254 last year, and a .300 AVG against his slider, up from .136 on the year in 2015.

The line drive % on his fastball is up (42.1% this season vs 21% last season). Same with his slider (46.2 LD%, up from 25.8%).

Papelbon finished the Phillies off last night and preserved the lead for Tanner Roark, which Baker was happy to see.

Roark went seven innings, giving up four hits, two walks and two earned runs in a 97-pitch effort in Citizens Bank Park, giving up runs on a sac bunt in the second and a solo homer by Freddy Galvis in the sixth.

"We let a couple of his victories slip away in the past," Baker said, "then tonight, his pitch count was relatively low for Tanner, he was very efficient with all his pitches and he made that one mistake, that two-strike mistake on the home run pitch -- I don't even know if it was a mistake, but it was a mistake to him, a down-in slider, I think, and certainly didn't want that to be the pitch that cost us the game."

Galvis's home run put the Phillies up 2-1, but the Nationals rallied in the eighth, scoring three runs off Hector Neris and breaking the Philly bullpen's streak of 11+ scoreless innings.

"We got some big hits against a very tough back end of their bullpen, and, boy, I mean, that was huge."

"The guys kept fighting and fighting and battling and we came away with it."

Maybe next time, Baker said, they can get things going a little bit earlier, to spare their manager some of the stress?

"I wish we had gotten them earlier," he said of the late hits and runs. " I'd feel much more comfortable if they had gotten them early, but I don't care, just as long as we get them. But I'm trying to urge our guys to get them a little earlier."