VIERA, Fla. -- After his dugout confrontation with Bryce Harper last season, it seemed likely that Jonathan Papelbon had appeared in a Nationals uniform for the final time. Yet, Papelbon arrived to the team's facility on Friday as the Nationals' closer and ready to begin another season. He apologized for the incident, which he said he wanted to put behind him and focus on the next season.
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo listened to offers for Papelbon during the offseason, but no deal materialized. With a completely revamped group of relievers, Papelbon is one of just a few pitchers with a defined role in the Nationals' bullpen.
Papelbon apologizes for dugout incident with Harper
Washington's bullpen underwent a near-complete overhaul during the offseason, adding four new relievers -- Shawn Kelley, Oliver Perez, Yusmeiro Petit and Trevor Gott -- while three key bullpen pieces from last season -- Drew Storen, Casey Janssen and Matt Thornton -- are gone. Tanner Roark seems poised to transition back to a starter.
"I think we have a lot of experience in the bullpen," Rizzo said. "Kelley's got experience, Petit has got experience, Papelbon's got experience. Our younger guys have a full year of experience in the Major Leagues."
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The Nationals have added more bullpen candidates the past few days, signing Burke Badenhop and Matt Belisle to Minor League contracts with Spring Training invites. With so much turnover and uncertainty in the bullpen, Papelbon has become especially important to the Nationals' success. They are hoping he can duplicate his All-Star campaign in 2015, when he posted a 2.13 ERA with 24 saves.
"Numbers-wise, he was one of the premier closers in the game," Rizzo said. "He does it differently now than he did five, six years ago with the Red Sox, but as far as performance-wise, he didn't blow his first save until [September]. So [being an] All-Star, blowing two saves the whole season, being healthy the whole year and putting up good numbers and good peripherals -- I think he can have a really good year for us."