CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon occasionally talks as his fictitious alter ego "Cinco Ocho."
He presumably spoke as himself Friday when he discussed the Phillies' lack of leadership in the clubhouse last season. He told The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa., earlier this week that "since I've been here I haven't seen any leadership." He expounded on that comment before an intrasquad game at Bright House Field.
"I don't say anything that's not accurate," he said. So he explained what he meant.
"I hope you guys aren't saying it's one particular person in general, because I put myself in that category," he said. "I don't feel like I took on certain leadership as much as I could have with the guys in the bullpen. And I intend to make that change this year. I hope that other guys on this team feel the same way as I do. Granted, we did have a lot of injuries and stuff like that. And that does affect how leadership plays a part with teams."
Injuries probably played the biggest role in any lack of leadership last season. Chase Utley has set the tone in the clubhouse for years, but he missed the first few months of the season because of bad knees. Ryan Howard is a large presence in the clubhouse, both figuratively and literally. He did not play until July because of an Achilles injury. And Roy Halladay had been the leader of a talented pitching staff since his arrival in 2010. He also spent time on the disabled list.
Lose those three leaders for a significant period of time? Yeah, that hurts.
Papelbon dismissed any suggestion that the clubhouse last season was a bad one, although even outside observers could detect a different atmosphere than years past.
"No, no, no, no," he said. "No, not at all. It was just a clubhouse that didn't have an identity. And a clubhouse that didn't have leadership, I felt like. And that's not to put the blame on any one person or any one coach. That's just the way it was. It's just the way things unfolded. I've been on plenty of teams that way."
But it is worth noting that nobody in the Phillies clubhouse disagreed with Papelbon's assessment Friday.
"I agree," Jimmy Rollins said. "I'd say we didn't have the identity last year we had in previous years. And [identity and leadership] are basically one in the same. It's nothing to take offense to. He didn't say anything about this year. He was talking about last year. He didn't say leadership is. Leadership was. ... Me and Pap were actually at the golf course [Thursday] talking about that. He brought up the feel of the team this year compared to last year. The difference and how much better it is this year. It's nothing to take offense to. The bond was broken. Now we're back together. The glue is back together. You can have a lead singer, but without a man playing the guitar and drums, it's a different band."
"It's tough trying to create chemistry with me and Chase and Doc going down," Ryan Howard said. "But now we have a Spring Training where we can come back and reform that chemistry, and continue to try and stay healthy throughout Spring Training, and try to go into the regular season like we've never skipped a beat."
Missing last season were strong personalities from the past like Jayson Werth, Raul Ibanez, Pat Burrell, Brad Lidge, Aaron Rowand, Chad Durbin and others. The new guys didn't speak up, possibly because they were new and didn't feel it was there place. And the youngsters kept quiet because they understandably defer to the veterans.
"Hopefully, this year that'll change," Papelbon said. "And I think it will. I said this, too. I was really, really happy the way the season ended and some of the leadership that started to emerge and some of the team's identity that started to emerge. ... I love this clubhouse. I liked this clubhouse when I was in Boston and played against it. I admired what I saw on the field. That was a big reason why I came here. I don't think I'm speaking anything that is a big surprise by any means. We were missing a few things and injuries got in the way. It's amazing when you take injuries, it's a domino effect. When you don't have your 25 guys, it can domino effect into so many different things."
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said he talked with Papelbon about stepping up his leadership role in the bullpen, which seems like a no-brainer. He is an All-Star and World Series champion with a $50 million contract.
"He has that status," Manuel said. "If he can filter his energy, his personality can inspire young pitchers. He came over here, we had just won 102 games. He thought we were going to hit homers. He thought we were going to pitch shutouts and be in close games. He might have been a little bit disappointed in what he saw, because we had injuries and did not play well. That's what he was talking about. When he said he felt we didn't have leadership, it was probably who we had and were playing at that time that had something to do with that."
Papelbon signed his four-year, $50 million contract before the 2012 season. He said he does not regret his decision, despite the team missing the postseason for the first time since 2006 and uncertainty in the future.
"[Shoot] yeah, man," he said. "I'm extremely happy with my decision to play here. I love this group of guys. The way this group came together the last month of the season, it was an awesome sight to see. If we can take that into the season this year, it will be great. We have a special, special group here. We truly do. And we have special leaders here. If we can get the most out of our team and our bullpen and our starting staff, I think that we have the chance to do some special things this year. I think we have the chance to be the best bullpen, I think we have the chance to be the best starting staff and lineup. I think we have a chance to win the World Series. I really, truly do. And I'm not just saying that. I think we have a really good shot at doing that."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.