What's wrong with Jonathan Papelbon? A lot, actually

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Lost in Dustin Pedroia’s heroics last night is that Jonathan Papelbon blew a save on back-to-back days for the first time in his career and blew consecutive saves, period, for just the third time.
Here’s what he said afterward:

I’ve got to go back to the drawing board. It’s just that simple. If I sit here and try to make things more complicated than they are I’m only going to hurt myself in the long run. I wasn’t crisp in my delivery. That’s basically it. I mean, it’s just like anything else. The season’s a heavyweight fight. I lost Round 3. We’ve got 12 rounds to go.

Papelbon is absolutely right about not overreacting to a bad stretch in a long season and the good news is that he recovered from blowing a two-run lead in the ninth inning to pitch a scoreless 10th inning and actually pick up the win. However, the bad news is that his ERA is up to 3.98, which is by far the worst mark of his career, and Papelbon is showing significant signs of decline in several other areas:
* He’s striking out a career-worst 7.7 batters per nine innings, which is 22 percent worse than his previous career-low of 9.9 and 26 percent below his career mark of 10.4 coming into the season.
* He’s served up six homers in just 31.2 innings, which is already the highest total of his career. Prior to this season he allowed an average of six homers per 85 innings.
* He’s walking 3.4 batters per nine innings, which is even higher than his career-high mark of 3.2 set last season. Prior to 2009 he walked just 2.1 batters per nine innings.
* His average fastball velocity is down 0.2 miles per hour from last season and 0.8 mph from 2008, which would be insignificant if not for the fact that Fan Graphs shows his fastball as being a negative-value pitch so far this year after being a huge asset each year from 2005-2009.
* His average slider velocity is down 1.7 mph from last season and 4.4 mph from 2008.
* He’s throwing his splitter far more often than he did in 2008 or 2009, using it 15.7 percent of the time despite the pitch not actually producing positive results.
* Opponents are making more contact on his pitches inside the strike zone than at any point in his career, connecting on 87.8 percent of their swings.
I’m certainly not ready to write off Papelbon as an elite closer, but even looking deeper than the back-to-back blown saves the signs aren’t very encouraging. Meanwhile, setup man Daniel Bard has a 2.11 ERA, .167 opponents’ batting average, and 40/12 K/BB ratio in 38.1 innings.

Anthony Alford to miss 4-6 weeks following wrist surgery

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Blue Jays’ outfielder Anthony Alford will miss at least 4-6 weeks after undergoing surgery on his left wrist, the team announced on Saturday. Alford was placed on the 10-day disabled list earlier in the week after sustaining a left hamate fracture on a foul pitch, and could miss significant time in what looks to be a lengthy rehab process. MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm reports that the procedure has been scheduled for next week and will be performed by Dr. Donald Sheridan in Arizona.

Alford, 22, was called up to the majors from Double-A New Hampshire last Friday. He went hitless in his first three outings, finally catching a break against the Brewers on Tuesday when he pinch-hit a leadoff double in the seventh. The injury occurred two innings later when Alford fouled off a pitch in the ninth inning, fracturing his wrist in the process.

Alford will join eight other players on the Blue Jays’ disabled list, including outfielders Steve Pearce (calf strain), Dalton Pompey (concussion) and Darrell Cecillani (partial shoulder dislocation). He’s expected to be replaced by 24-year-old outfield prospect Dwight Smith Jr.

Stephen Strasburg hit a new career high today

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Good luck getting a hit against the Nationals this weekend. Stephen Strasburg followed Max Scherzer‘s 13-strikeout performance on Friday with a dazzling outing of his own on Saturday afternoon. The right-hander whiffed a career-best 15 batters in seven innings, allowing just three hits and a walk in the Nats’ 3-0 win.

It took Strasburg several innings to get into a groove after pitching into (and out of) a jam in the first inning. The Padres loaded the bases with Allen Cordoba‘s leadoff single, a throwing error by Ryan Zimmerman and a four-pitch walk to Cory Spangenberg. By the third, Strasburg was cruising, striking out the side on 18 pitches and keeping the Padres off the basepaths until the sixth. He recorded his 15th and final strikeout in the seventh inning, catching Padres’ prospect Franchy Cordero swinging on a 1-2 pitch to effectively end his outing.

While 15 strikeouts set a new career record for the Nationals’ ace, he came close to reaching the mark twice before. The first time, he struck out 14 of 24 batters during his major league debut against the 2010 Pirates, though the 5-2 win did little more than keep the Nationals neck-and-neck with the Marlins at the bottom of the NL East. Five years later, he tied his 14-strikeout record against the 2015 Phillies, tossing a one-hitter in eight innings to cement his ninth victory of the season.

The only one who doesn’t seem overly enthused by the new record? Strasburg himself, who told MLB.com’s Jamal Collier and AJ Cassavell: “It’s pretty cool, but there’s another game five, six days from now. I’ll enjoy it tonight, but back to work tomorrow.”