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Papelbon: Nathan’s injury wouldn’t have affected decision

03.09.10 at 12:34 pm ET
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Jonathan Papelbon says that Joe Nathan's injury shouldn't affect how teams view closers. (AP)

FORT MYERS, Fla. – In the midst the Red Sox’ workout at City of Palms Park Jonathan Papelbon got the news.

Joe Nathan, the reliever for the Minnesota Twins and part of Papelbon’s closer fraternity, had been diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and would potentially need season-ending Tommy John surgery.

“I didn’t know that,” Papelbon deadpanned.

“For sure it hits home for me. Any pitcher, it’s something that you always have to be aware of and try and not push the limits, but that’s such a hard thing to do. It’s like a high-wire act because your natural instinct is to always go out there and pitch, even when you’re feeling a little bit of pain.”

Some might believe that Nathan’s injury will have a long-term affect on Papelbon’s future. The Twins’ reliever – whose numbers the last four seasons mirror his Red Sox counterpart – secured a contract rare for closers these days, signing for four years at $47 million almost two years ago.

Now Papelbon understands that the injury will open the door for people to offer yet another cynical view towards the value of inking closers to long-term deals.

“There are going to be people who jump to conclusions,” the Sox closer said. “I think it would be foolish to think that this position gets hurt more than this position. I don’t think you can necessarily say from position to position.”

Another topic that Nathan’s injury will surface is Papelbon’s decision in 2007 spring training to dismiss the opportunity to start and commit to becoming a full-time closer.

While contracts stretching four and five years are regularly dished out for starters, the days of giving the kind of five-year deals to closers, such as the one given to B.J. Ryan on Nov. 28, 2005, appear to be a thing of the past.

Papelbon, even if something like Nathan occurred when he was making his switch, he wouldn’t have batted an eye.

“It wouldn’t have affected my decision,” Papelbon explained. “I made my decision solely based on the contentment of my heart and what I want to show up every day and do. Not on everybody else’s experiences from it, based on only my own experiences from it, and that’s how I made my decision, period, end of story.

“I had everybody and their mother, agents included, saying ‘You need to be a starter. Oh, you’re going to make more money. Oh, you’ve got to stay healthy. This, that or the other thing.’ Right now it looks like I’m making the right decision. Who knows four years ago if I would have been on four All-Star rosters and won a World Series with team in ’07 if I wouldn’t have. So it looks like right now ‘Cinco Ocho’ is right and everybody else is wrong.

“The way I look at it, when you’re able to show up to work every day and do something you enjoy doing, and love what you’re doing, there’s no substitute for that. There isn’t. When I was making my decision that’s all I based it on.”

Now it remains to be seen if the Nathan injury gives teams even colder feet when it comes to dishing out long-term deals.

Papelbon, however, wants to offer the reminder his belief that it isn’t the injury that causes the injuries, but rather simply the circumstances that come with playing any sort of sport.

“It’s part of the game. It’s every sport and it’s part of every game,” he said. “People are going to get injured, it’s just part of the game. I don’t know if guys are more injury-prone than others. I don’t know if you can say that. It’s like any sport, basketball, baseball, football. When you give out a long-term deal you’re have to hope he stays healthy and do everything you can to keep him healthy.

“You can look at position players, pitchers, basketball players, football players, hockey players, no matter who you are and no matter what sport you play, you’re always one pitch and one circumstance away from an injury. All you can do is prepare the best you can and keep your body as healthy as you can and the rest is up to the big man.”

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