Nats suspend Jonathan Papelbon for fight with Bryce Harper

ByEddie Matz ESPN logo
Tuesday, September 29, 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Washington Nationals announced they have suspended closer Jonathan Papelbon for four games without pay for his role in a dugout incident during which he choked teammate and National League MVP front-runner Bryce Harper.

The team suspension will kick in on Thursday after Papelbon first serves a three-game suspension that was levied by MLB. Papelbon had been appealing the league's suspension, which stemmed from him throwing high and inside at Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado, but he has since dropped the appeal.

Sunday's incident occurred in the bottom of the eighth inning of the Nationals' series finale against the Phillies, Washington's first game since being mathematically eliminated from playoff contention on Saturday.

After getting out of the batter's box slowly on a pop fly to left field, Harper, 22, returned to the dugout and was approached by Papelbon, the 34-year-old closer who was acquired exactly two months earlier from Philadelphia and had entered Sunday's game in the top of eighth. The two appeared to have a brief but heated exchange that resulted in Papelbon putting his hands on Harper's throat and shoving him into the back wall of the Washington dugout. Several Nationals players and coaches responded immediately and separated the two.

"The behavior exhibited by Papelbon yesterday is not acceptable," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said in a statement. "That is not at all in line with the way our players are expected to conduct themselves and the Nationals organization will not tolerate it in any way."

With seven games left to play, the combined seven-game suspension ends Papelbon's season. Per MLB policy, Papelbon is not permitted to be with the team during his three-game league suspension. As for the team suspension, which spans the final game of the Nationals' series in Atlanta and all three contests in New York against the Mets this coming weekend, manager Matt Williams said Papelbon would not be traveling with the team.

Though Papelbon was suspended Monday for his actions, Williams on Sunday saw no problem with leaving him in the game. Williams allowed Papelbon to go back out onto the field and pitch in the bottom of the ninth inning of Sunday's game with the scored tied 4-4. Papelbon proceeded to give up five runs (two earned), including a two-run homer toAndres Blanco, before being relieved with two outs.

"I thought it was odd," Rizzo said of Papelbon returning to the mound after the fight. "But there's a lot of things going on in the dugout at the time. Matt missed it. He owned up to it."

On Monday, Williams said that he didn't have a full grasp of what had transpired in the dugout until he watched a video of it following the game. He said that had he known the complete details of incident immediately, he would not have sent Papelbon back out to pitch.

"He would have not gone out for the ninth inning," Williams said. "I take responsibility for that. I could have gotten more information."

As punishment for his involvement, Harper, who did sit out the ninth inning of Sunday's 12-5 loss, was not in the lineup for Monday's 5-1 win over the Reds.

"He was involved in it," Williams said. "He said something to Jonathan, and he played a part in the incident."

Rizzo said the punishment disparity indicates who the franchise believes "was more at fault."

"I don't want to be out of the lineup, of course," Harper said, according to "It's something where I just want to play the game and play hard. It was unfortunate what happened yesterday. You don't expect to fight your teammates or anything like that. It's definitely something that, as the Nationals, we don't pride ourselves on that. We're a family in here.

Williams said he had been planning on giving Harper a day off this week following the team's elimination.

For his part, Harper, a franchise cornerstone, said he'd have no problem continuing to be teammates with Papelbon.

"If Paps can help us win a World Series next year, that's what I need. That's what this whole clubhouse needs," Harper said. "We can't be fighting or anything like that."

Papelbon has an $11 million option for next season, but Rizzo hesitated to say the team would definitely bring him back.

"Will he be with us in 2016? He's under contract," Rizzo said about Papelbon. "We're going to evaluate every moving part that we have after the season, and we'll make all those decisions once the final out is made in 2015."

News of the Nationals' dugout blowout resonated in the sports world, with members of the neighboringWashington Redskins weighing in on the situation on Monday.

"That was pretty weird to see," said linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, whose teammates on the defensive line wore customized Nats jerseys in the Redskins' locker room earlier this season. "You hate to see the MVP getting choked out. But those things happen, especially in baseball, especially when you're around the guys six months, although Papelbon was acquired [in July]. Those things happen; hopefully there's no lingering effects."

Information from Redskins reporter John Keim and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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