Nationals release former closer Jonathan Papelbon

WASHINGTON (AP) The Washington Nationals have cut reliever Jonathan Papelbon, who rarely pitched after the NL East leaders recently traded for new closer Mark Melancon.

Papelbon was released Saturday. The Nationals needed a roster spot to promote righty Reynaldo Lopez to start against Atlanta.

''There wasn't a real fit anymore,'' Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. ''Didn't know where to use him.''

Papelbon, ninth on the career saves list with 368, only threw 2 2/3 innings after his final blown save on July 26. The Nationals got Melancon a few days later from Pittsburgh.

The 35-year-old Papelbon, suspended by the Nationals last September after grabbing NL MVP Bryce Harper by the throat during a dugout skirmish, is now a free agent and can sign with any team.

The Nationals are responsible for the remainder of his $11 million salary this year.

Papelbon has converted 19 of 22 save chances this season, and is 2-4 with a 4.37 ERA.

The six-time All-Star had trouble in July, giving up eight runs and seven hits in three outings, before the Nationals got Melancon from the Pirates. Melancon immediately took over the closer's role.

Washington acquired the fiery Papelbon in July 2015 to replace Drew Storen as its closer. The Nationals, favored by many to make the World Series, faltered down the stretch and missed the playoffs, and Papelbon's altercation with Harper became a symbol for the team's frustration.

Once the Nats got Melancon, Papelbon had no set spot in their bullpen.

Baker called Papelbon a ''professional'' in response to the demotion. Teammates pushed back against any notion of the recent situation or last season's incident with Harper causing locker room issues.

''He's not a distraction whatsoever,'' ace Max Scherzer said. ''He comes in to play every single day, he works his absolute tail off and he competes on the mound for us.''

''All that stuff, last year ... just a media circus. We were 100 percent behind him. We understood all his intentions. He was great for our team. He was great for everybody in this clubhouse. To sit here and say he's a bad teammate or anything like that, it's garbage to me,'' he said.

Papelbon made his major league debut with Boston in 2005. In 2007, he pitched 10 2/3 scoreless innings in the postseason and helped the Red Sox win the World Series.

''He was a great teammate. He was popular with his teammates,'' Baker said. ''We wish Pap the best and he wished us the best. He wanted us to win (the World Series). Those were his parting words.''

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.