Washington Nationals' closer Jonathan Papelbon landed on the DL for the first time in his career with a right intercostal strain back on June 14th, retroactive to the 13th, after he suffered the injury warming up for a relief appearance.
"Pap is a guy that has a high tolerance for pain," Nats' skipper Dusty Baker explained when asked about the decision to give Papelbon time off to heal.
"Certainly this guy is one of the tough guys and we just thought that it would be better not to inject it, not to -- because you can really tear it up and he could be out for a long period of time.
"So use this time to get his strength back and it will be like -- when he comes back hopefully it will be almost like trading for a new player because he'll be strong."
"As much as he didn't want to do it," Baker added, "he said he didn't want to put pressure on his compadres in the bullpen."
Papelbon passed his first test on the way back, apparently, when he threw a bullpen session this past Saturday.
"The ball was flying everywhere," Papelbon said, as quoted by Washington Post writer Roman Stubbs:
"But I felt really good, and that’s really the only thing that matters. Probably start to feel better and better as it goes on... I made some really good pitches and some really bad ones…but overall I threw a lot of pitches and I felt really good. But I really pushed myself. I really pushed myself to see how far I could take it."
Papelbon said then that the next step would be a rehab assignment once he made sure he came through the throwing session feeling good and talked to GM Mike Rizzo.
"My next stop will probably be at Potomac on Monday," Papelbon explained, as quoted by MASNSports.com's Pete Kerzel.
"Talk to Rizz and confirm how I feel today. See how that day goes, and if that day goes good, hopefully be able to come off and help these guys out. But I don’t have a Magic 8-ball, so I can’t predict the future."
The High-A Carolina League's P-Nats announced the news that Papelbon would join them for a rehab assignment on Sunday evening:
"No determination has been made as to how long Papelbon will stay with Potomac," the P-Nats noted in a press release on the rehab assignment.
It will be the first time the right-hander has pitched in the minors in eleven years, since his third season in the Boston Red Sox' system after he was drafted out of Mississippi State University in the 4th Round of the 2003 Draft.
Papelbon earned 16 saves in18 opportunities before landing on the DL, posting a 3.28 ERA, a 3.62 FIP, eight walks (2.92 BB/9), 19 Ks (6.93 K/9) and a .266/.324/.415 line against in 24 ⅔ IP.