PHILADELPHIA -- Jonathan Papelbon had seven blown save opportunities last season. So when he couldn't nail down the lead at Texas on April 2, retiring only one of the seven batters he faced, it caused some understandable concern.
Since then, though, he's had five straight scoreless appearances, including a 1-2-3 ninth with two strikeouts to nail down Thursday afternoon's 1-0 win over the Braves at Citizens Bank Park. In those games, he has four saves and has held opposing hitters to an .063 batting average.
"He's key. He's our closer," said manager Ryne Sandberg. "I like the way he's throwing, and that he continues to improve. In some regards, the fact that he needed to work on his command and pitch, I think that's improved his secondary pitches. In this game he featured his fastball in perfect spots, so it's a good combination. As I say, I see him making good strides.
"He seems to be picking it up a little bit and throwing his fastball. Sat around 93. He's getting into a groove. His velocity is going upwards so that's all good."
Said Papelbon: "I've been able to make adjustments, and that's what this game is about. Hopefully I'll be able to keep doing that. Texas was one of those innings that happens when you're a closer, and you have to put that behind you."
He became exasperated, however, when asked about his increased velocity. "Why do you guys [media] care about velo so much, man?" he asked. "Does it matter? Do you think it matters? I don't understand that. I mean, if the ball has life at the plate ... it doesn't make one bit of difference. End of story."
Actually, Papelbon's loss of velocity had been an issue going back to last season, and he seemed to admit it earlier this year. When he got a save at Wrigley Field in his first appearance after the implosion in Texas, here's what he said: "You know, as the season goes on, hopefully my velocity will be able to increase. I think everybody usually hits their peak around June. But right now I'm going to focus on just pitching. ... I have a lot to prove."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.