CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Jonathan Papelbon might be one of the few people not concerned about his velocity.
He has lost nearly three miles per hour on his fastball the past two seasons, according to FanGraphs. Coincidentally or not, Papelbon had the lowest strikeout rate of his career last season, and blew seven of his 36 save opportunities. His 80.6 save percentage ranked 29th out of 32 closers with 20 or more save opportunities.
"I think velo comes and goes the way your body feels," Papelbon said Thursday after striking out two in a scoreless inning against the Yankees at Bright House Field. "But if I'm not locating, it's not going to come in handy. At the end of the day, I don't want just velo, I want command, too."
But Papelbon has been in the 91-93 mph range through his first two Grapefruit League appearances, which could be an encouraging sign. Some closers and pitching coaches like to say closers don't hit peak velocity until the regular season because there simply isn't any adrenaline in Spring Training. Time will tell if that is true with Papelbon, but the Phillies seem to be encouraged.
"When I'm looking at him," Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure said, "I'm looking at the effort in throwing the ball and how the ball is coming out. For me, it's not like he's overthrowing. The ball is coming out clean. It's got some hop to it when it's coming through the zone. I'm very pleased with where he's at right now."
"He looks more comfortable out there," manager Ryne Sandberg said. "Like nothing is bothering him."
Papelbon battled a left hip injury last season, which he has downplayed. He said Thursday he is healthy.
"I just had a bad wheel, man," he said.
But perhaps if Papelbon felt healthier last season, maybe if the ball had a little more hop through the zone, maybe he saves three of those seven games he blew.
"Maybe," he said.
Maybe he saves four or five.
"Maybe," he said.
"I don't want to make a big deal about that," Papelbon added. "I've still posted up, man. I posted up when we were 12 games out, 15 games out. I've still posted up. To me that's kind of irrelevant. It really truly is."
But Papelbon also said he worked hard in the offseason to be ready for 2014.
"I rehabbed it. I worked out on it," he said. "I went into this offseason with a mindset and a challenge to myself to come to spring a certain way. And I'm going to continue that challenge throughout the season. To me, I guess that's just how I tick. I'm the type of person that I need challenges. Things get boring."
So what's the challenge?
"It's more of a mental challenge, a focus challenge, a leadership challenge, a competitive challenge," he said. "That's a lot of things mixed into my mindset, and what I need to do to be successful. I don't know. I've got to keep things spicy, I guess."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less