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Dusty Baker on Nationals' closer Jonathan Papelbon and The Hank Aaron Theory

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Dusty Baker talked to reporters before tonight's game about Jonathan Papelbon's struggles against his former team and the difficulty of being a major league closer. He also introduced his "Hank Aaron Theory" on the matter...

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Nationals' closer Jonathan Papelbon earned his 16th save of the season and his 365th career save on Friday night in Washington's 9-6 win over the Philadelphia Phillies, leaving him two saves behind Jeff Reardon for 9th on the all-time saves list.

On Sunday afternoon, he was called upon in a non-save situation with the game tied at 3-3 in the top of the ninth inning.

"There aren't many lockdown closers around. That's a hard job. I think that's one of the hardest jobs there is, to take that final breath out of anybody." -Dusty Baker on Nationals' closer Jonathan Papelbon

Papelbon left a 2-2 slider up in the zone to Maikel Franco, who hit it 406 feet to left field for a go-ahead home run that momentarily put the Phillies up before Jayson Werth's bases-loaded, two-out single gave the Nationals a walk-off win.

In a post-game interview with reporters, including MASNSports.com's Byron Kerr, Papelbon acknowledged that he made a mistake to Franco.

"Totally bad executed pitch," Papelbon said. "My opinion, most major league baseball players should hit that ball out. It was a very poorly executed pitch."

It's a tough job, as both Papelbon and Nats' skipper Dusty Baker said.

"The last remaining outs of a ballgame are the hardest ones to get," Papelon said.  "At-bats change, approaches change. No one wants to make that last out."

"There aren't many lockdown closers around," Baker told reporters this afternoon.

"That's a hard job. I think that's one of the hardest jobs there is to take that final breath out of anybody. Get those last three outs. I've seen a lot guys -- they can be in the set-up role, but they're not very good in that closer's role."

"You don't talk about his saves, you talk about his blown saves," Baker added. "I guess it comes with the territory. But, I don't know, the guys has -- I'm not defending him -- but the guy has [365] saves. Man."

After giving up a run in the ninth last night, Papelbon has a 3.28 ERA (up from 2.13 last year and 2.38 career), a 3.60 FIP (down slightly from 3.70 last year, but up from his 2.79 career FIP) with a strikeout less per nine and over a walk more per nine.

Opposing hitters have a .321 AVG against his slider so far this season and a .280 AVG against his fastball, up from .196 and .214, respectively, in his career, and as many have noted, he's not getting as many swinging strikes as he has in previous seasons (9.5 SwStr% on the year, down from 12.4 last season and 13.1% in his career).

Papelbon told reporters, as quoted by MASN's reporter, that he feels his stuff is as good as it has been in previous seasons:

"I feel like I’ve been as successful as I have been in many other years," Papelbon said. "I haven’t been that great in tie ballgames this year, but when my number’s called for save situations, you know ..."

Baker said a lot of Papelbon's trouble, four of the nine runs he's allowed and one of the two home runs, have come against his former team, which might not be a coincidence.

"Most of his woes have been out of Philly," Baker said.

"This is what people don't understand, is that there are certain psychological things that you have to have. I mean, you start chipping away at the guy's confidence and then you don't have the same guy. -Dusty Baker on Nationals' closer Jonathan Papelbon

"You don't know if that's psychological on his part or their part, you know? If you take away the Philly games, he's almost been unflappable.

"Yesterday he hung a slider, and that's what you're supposed to do with it. A lot of times if you're not locating well or you're hanging a pitch is when you're trying too hard. Hank Aaron always told me the most dangerous pitcher was a relaxed pitcher. Because -- he'd go up there first and he'd get all these hangers and nothing sinkers and I'd get up there and he said, 'They're not afraid of you and the damage is done.'

"They wanted to throw him that hecka-slider and it just spins and the hecka-sinker and it just runs. And so maybe [Papelbon] is just not relaxed against his former team, according to the Hank Aaron Theory."

So, a reporter asked, does it ever get to a point where you avoid using a pitcher when you're facing a team he's struggled against?

"Yeah, but how do you do that and don't cause psychological damage?" Baker asked rhetorically.

"This is what people don't understand, is that there are certain psychological things that you have to have. I mean, you start chipping away at the guy's confidence and then you don't have the same guy.

"It's easy to say, 'Put somebody else in,' but then what happens when they don't do it? Do I go back and say, 'Hey, man, I was just kidding.

"Until you find somebody better -- this is what we have, instead of us getting on him, let's pull for him and send him some positive vibes, you know what I mean. He's a potential All-Star. This guy has 16 saves, what's top now, 20?"

Jeurys Familia, who leads the NL in saves, has 21 so far. Papelbon's seventh in the National League.

"You take away his saves and where are we? He's one of ours and until then, until something else, or if it doesn't happen, then he's still one of ours."