Skip to content

Rizzo gives his side of Papelbon/Harper punishments

Sep 28, 2015, 7:44 PM EDT

USA Today Sports Images

Mike Rizzo further justified the Nationals’ decision to suspend Jonathan Papelbon four games and bench Bryce Harper one game Monday evening, citing the disparity in punishments between the two players as “equitable” given their roles in Sunday’s dugout fight.

“You could see, by the type of discipline we placed on both players, which we thought was weighed the most,” the Nationals general manager said after Monday’s home finale against the Reds. “We felt that they were both equal and equitable ways to handle the situation.”

Rizzo clearly placed the lion’s share of blame for the incident on Papelbon, who instigated the matter by chirping at Harper for not running hard down the first-base line on an eighth-inning popup, then proceeded to grab his teammate by the neck and slam him against the dugout bench and back wall. But he also cited Harper for playing a part in the fracas, responding to Papelbon’s verbal barbs with his own words that perhaps prompted the closer to turn physical.

“He was involved in a dugout fight with Jonathan Papelbon; that was the reason,” Rizzo said. “He was involved in it. And you could see by how we weighted the disciplinary actions who we felt was more at fault than the other.”

Rizzo did offer a passionate defense of Harper’s hustle, both on the play in question and throughout his MVP-caliber season.

“I love the way Bryce Harper plays,” the GM said. “I’ve got no problem with his effort level, with the way he hustles. It is the job of the veteran players to point out when they think you’re not playing the game right. Pap must’ve felt that he wasn’t, and he called him on it. It takes a guy with some guts to call a player out nowadays. But Harp plays the game the right way. I have no problem with the way he plays. Wasn’t it just the other day people were telling us he plays too hard and we have to calm him down and not let him run so hard?”

Rizzo said he spoke to Papelbon via phone on Monday, informing him of the club’s decision. The veteran reliever won’t be joining the Nationals on their season-ending road trip but will apparently meet with team officials sometime shortly after that.

“He was upset with the suspension, and we discussed about the nature of the incident and how I felt that it was an unacceptable way to handle yourself as a Washington National,” Rizzo said. “We parted amicably, and I left it with: We will see him shortly after the season.”

Rizzo wouldn’t delve into specifics about Papelbon’s future with the organization beyond this year, other than to acknowledge more decisions will have to be made sometime soon.

“He’s under contract,” the GM said. “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.”

Rizzo admitted he was surprised when Papelbon was allowed to re-take the mound for the ninth inning, just minutes after the fight, but understood why manager Matt Williams didn’t immediately realize the severity of the incident.

“I thought it was odd,” Rizzo said. “But there’s a lot of things going on in the dugout at the time. Matt missed it. He owned up to it. He said it was his fault, if he had known he wouldn’t have put him back in. His job is to manage that area in the dugout. And he made a mistake.”

Asked if he was bothered by the fact no other coaches explained to Williams what exactly happened in that moment, Rizzo replied: “There’s plenty of mistakes to go around in the issue, yes.”

The Nationals knew of Papelbon’s reputation when they acquired him July 28, but Rizzo said he was confident in the background work he and others in the organization did that the combustible reliever would fit in well in Washington.

“We did a lot of due diligence, like we do with every player that we acquire at the trade deadline or the draft or anything,” he said. “We talked to a lot of his teammates, a lot of teammates he had in Boston. He’s one of those guys that maybe irritates you if he’s on the other team. But he’s a good teammate that wants to win. He’s a competitive guy.”

Has Papelbon lived up to that description?

“I think for the most part he has fit into the clubhouse culture fine,” Rizzo said. “You can ask the players in there. I think they respect what he’s done in the game and the way he prepares and goes about his business. I’m not going to judge his entire body, his whole career, by this one incident. It was unfortunate and unacceptable. And I think the suspension says that.”

  1. sunshinebobby - Sep 28, 2015 at 7:55 PM

    Rizzo: “We parted amicably, and I left it with: We will see him shortly after the season.”

    Translation: To tel him he’s been traded to Cincinnati.

    • natsfan1a - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:12 PM

      Haven’t yet seen recording of the presser but I hope that said meeting will be to discuss Papelbon’s imminent departure from the team, for good. Parted amicably? Geez.

      • homeparkdc - Sep 29, 2015 at 3:50 AM

        For those who have not seen the Rizzo presser:

        My comments: Rizzo has anger and is trying to lie at the same time. He must get rid of Pplbn at the smallest cost on the remaining contract, so he’s in quite a spot – trying to satisfy the owners/team/fans while not destroying the possibility of any trade. IMO, he handled it okay.

      • natsfan1a - Sep 29, 2015 at 6:32 AM

        Thanks for sharing that, homepark.

      • natsfan1a - Sep 29, 2015 at 6:33 AM

        I’m not sure I even have the presser recorded, now that I think about it. I set it to start with Nats Xtra, which would have been 2:30. Dang it.

    • simalex - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:16 PM

      better yet, Colorado.

      • natsfan1a - Sep 29, 2015 at 6:34 AM

        I think he’d look swell in a Dodger uni. Just saying…hehe

  2. npb99 - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:14 PM

    I love the Nats, but right now they are a hybrid of the Caps (chokers) and Skins (dysfunction).

    • joemktg - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:31 PM

      Can you fit Gilbert Arenas into that analysis?

      • Karl Kolchak - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:40 PM

        Maybe Papelbon was keeping a gun in his locker.

      • nats106 - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:11 PM

        No but I could fit Latrell Sprewell into it. Had to be said.

    • bluejeener - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:27 PM

      oy vey. And after Barry Trotz specifically called on the Nats for their potential.
      We truly are doomed.

  3. JayB - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:19 PM

    We all have watched RIzzo for years in these settings…he rarely looks comfortable but man he looked panicked to me…..I would say Ted is pissed beyond words…..And Rizzo had a perfect chance to take ownership of the mess so he can clean it up…but nope….he went to the I am better than Jimbo and 2008…..RIzzo is on very thin ice you can tell.

  4. RoadApples - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:21 PM

    As I am a Nats supporter; since their inception :
    I concur and agree with this discipline handed out to both players by Management.

    • BatBoy - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:02 PM

      Bryce had the day off after Papelbon tried to assault Bryce Harper “With the Intent to Do Bodily Harm” ! Any other person in the District of Columbia, that, indeed, “Choke any Person, with intent to do bodily Harm”, will be subject to arrest, and incarceration, under the laws of the District of Columbia, and, in any state of the Union! Justification, that this assault, happened in a baseball dugout, does not make it legal! On, film, it is! As, I will press the DC Chief of Police to press charges, this is not an effense that cannot, be prossecuted, by the assaulted person ! He, Papelbon, is guilty as assault, with the intent to due bodily harm! He should be arrested, and face these same charges that any citizen should have to face! ARREST HIM NOW! He is not above the law!!

      • BatBoy - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:10 PM

        As a person of the court!, I will proceed to make sure, Papelbon is due in court! We can’t let our legal system let this go! Assault, is Assault, in a dugout our with your wife, or neighbor, friend, this can not, be let go just because it happened in the “DUG OUT” at Nats Park! Shame on you LERNERS! Would you want one of you wives CHOKED by the hands of PAPELBON??? SHAME ON YOU!!

      • harperletsgo - Sep 29, 2015 at 6:26 AM


  5. Karl Kolchak - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:25 PM

    If what the Nats did before the Papelbon trade was “due diligence,” I’d hate to see what their definition of “complete negligence” would be. Perhaps if Papelbon showed up at the stadium wearing a suicide bomber vest or something?

    I listened to the whole press conference on the way home from the game today. Rizzo sounded like an arrogant putz. Laying any of the blame for that incident on Harper is almost tantamount to just calling up the Yankees and telling them to be ready to welcome Bryce in 2019.

    • natsguy - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:11 PM

      If it wasn’t gonna happen before its gonna happen now.

  6. sunshinebobby - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:30 PM

    My scenario for next Monday:

    The Lerners demand Rizzo fire Matt.
    Rizzo declines to can his friend.
    The Lerners fire both of them.
    Hence, the housekeeping commences…

    • Karl Kolchak - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:36 PM

      That’s my hope, but the Lerners will be eating an awful lot of cash to pay off their contracts.

  7. senators5 - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:32 PM

    MR has certainly grown into the DC legal culture since coming from Arizona. With the added skill of Congressional “non speak” It sounded like that much of his statement/answers were written by Scot Boras who has this franchise right where he wants it…….in own pocket.

    • sunshinebobby - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:35 PM

      @senators5: I got exactly the same impression listening to Rizzo, all lawyered up. Basically, he’s perfect for this town. All plausible deniability, shifting/allocating blame on demand, no accountability.

  8. flamethrower101 - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:04 PM

    Once again, Bryce Harper was already scheduled to have Monday off, so his “benching” isn’t really a punishment, so what the hell are Matt Williams and Mike Rizzo talking about!?

    Also, B.S. on Williams getting any sympathy for not realizing how severe the incident was. That alone is enough proof that he is way in over his head as a manager and even as a dugout personality.

    • edgs3rd1978 - Sep 29, 2015 at 5:11 AM

      Aren’t they deducting a day’s pay?

      • DaveB - Sep 29, 2015 at 3:23 PM

        Nope … Rizzo made it quite clear, he was not suspended (or docked pay), just benched, so the disparity between the two “punishments” was extreme (as should be expected given the disparity in the roles played). Despite all the angst on here, I can’t believe that Harper has any issue at all with getting this slap on the wrist. Given his obvious respect for the game, I’m sure he expected some “punishment” both for whatever role he had in allowing it to escalate, as well as for walking out of the dugout and taking himself out of the game.

  9. natsguy - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:10 PM

    Three words. What a crock!!!

  10. Sonny G 10 - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:22 PM

    “It is the job of the veteran players to point out when they think you’re not playing the game right.”

    While this may be a true statement in most cases, I don’t think Papelbon has earned the right to point out anything to anyone. He did not even start the season with the Nats and he certainly has not earned the right to call out a position player. I want to see him gone from the team forever, not just for the rest of the season.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:40 PM

      Drew is apparently gone, and all he did was hang a few sliders. Seems disproportional to keep Papelbon after this.

      Seriously, I didn’t want him then, and I certainly don’t want him back. These things never, and by “never” I mean not ever, end well.

  11. carlospaula - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:32 PM

    Clearly, they cannot be together next year

  12. janebeard - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:36 PM

    Clearly, Papelbon can’t be in BASEBALL next year. Or any year. I hope he is done forever.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:42 PM

      Oh, he’ll be back somewhere. I’m hoping for Seattle or Cleveland or someplace else.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:43 PM

        Does his No Trade provision apply to Japanese teams? Nothing against Japan, I’m just wondering.

      • natsfan1a - Sep 29, 2015 at 6:32 AM

        Not Cleveland. My Aunt Mary, may she rest in peace, wouldn’t have wanted him either. 🙂

  13. ijncricket - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:36 PM

    I agree Rizzo looked very uncomfortable, as well he should. This is far from over, as he obliquely acknowledged. Big decisions are coming that could well determine if Harper remains a Nat for his entire career, among other things. Can we be competitive next year? Or did the Boston Strangler set off a chain of events that will see the roster and the coaching staff blown up, forcing a multi-year rebuilding plan.

  14. Sec 3, My Sofa - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:43 PM

    “Boston Strangler”

    Good one. Was that yours?

    • ijncricket - Sep 28, 2015 at 10:54 PM

      It just came to me but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone else thought of it too.

  15. robertrobert104 - Sep 29, 2015 at 1:01 AM

    Trade Harper, he’s too cocky…Oh boy, this organization is in deep trouble. They screwed Storen for that asshole? They knew Papelbon was a problem, but decided to go with him. Well, they’re now stuck with him. Nobody will want him after yesterday. So 2016 will be an interesting season: fights in the clubhouse, younger players not ready to play in the majors (Williams not letting them playing), probably a new manager, maybe a new GM (i doubt it), and owners who would wants to lower the salary cap ….and the farms systems is low in terms of real prospects (except pitchers). I see the Nats thirds in the division for next year…So this year is the end of the mirage ( Nats winning a WS)…..





As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...

MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.

*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at Click here for past audio clips.

Follow us on Twitter