2:30pm: Baker told reporters, including the Washington Post’s Chelsea Janes (Twitter link), that Papelbon initially incurred the injury while warming up on Sunday. There’s no set timetable for his return right now, nor do the Nats have a designated closer to step into Papelbon’s place. Baker noted that he likes Shawn Kelley quite a bit (via MASNsports.com’s Mark Zuckerman, on Twitter) but noted that the team is being careful with Kelley’s arm due to the fact that he has twice undergone Tommy John surgery in his career.
1:17pm: The Nationals have placed right-hander Jonathan Papelbon on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to yesterday, with a strained right intercostal muscle, per a team announcement. Right-hander Matt Belisle has been activated from his rehab assignment to take Papelbon’s spot on the roster. Remarkably, MLB.com’s Jamal Collier points out that this will be the first DL stint of Papelbon’s Major League career (Twitter link).
The Nats neglected to lit a specific timeline for Papelbon’s return, though Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post tweets that skipper Dusty Baker will chat with the media within the next hour, at which point further information should be available. It’s not immediately clear who will inherit the ninth inning during Papelbon’s absence, although Shawn Kelley has been far and away the team’s best short-stint reliever this season, having pitched to a 2.70 ERA with 13.1 K/9 against 1.9 BB/9 in 23 1/3 innings. Those numbers trump even Papelbon, who currently is sporting a 3.28 ERA with 6.9 K/9 against 2.9 BB/9 in a similar workload of 24 2/3 innings. Other considerations could be Felipe Rivero and Blake Treinen, though Rivero has struggled quite a bit of late and is sporting an ERA north of 5.00 at the moment.
[Related: Updated Washington Nationals depth chart]
While there’s no guarantee as to how long Papelbon will be out, the injury raises further questions about the back end of the club’s bullpen. It’s no secret that Papelbon’s peripheral stats have declined in recent seasons; his current strikeout rate, average fastball velocity (90.7 mph) and swinging-strike rate (9.5 percent) are each career-lows, and the aforementioned 2.9 BB/9 rate is the highest it’s been since 2010. Papelbon’s ERA remains serviceable, to be sure, but metrics like xFIP (4.74) and SIERA (4.23) paint a far less-favorable picture.
The Nationals have been oft-connected to a shutdown reliever on the trade market, with both Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller mentioned as targets the Nats hope will become available. The injury to Papelbon only figures to increase the amount of chatter surrounding their hunt for a formidable ’pen arm — especially if he is to expected to miss more than the minimum 15-day requirement. As MLBTR’s Jeff Todd pointed out last week in running down some of the top trade candidates from around the league, there figures to be a large number of relievers available this summer, whereas many other positions will be considerably more difficult to fill.