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Nats' Papelbon complicated, but respected

Jonathan Papelbon yelled from his locker to Washington Nationals clubhouse attendant Mike Wallace in the middle of the room. The message: tell Gio Gonzalez to get on the stationary bike.

Out on the practice fields in Viera, Florida, Papelbon stopped a drill because Gonzalez wasn't doing it right, something new manager Dusty Baker said was "a sign to me of a good team."

The Nationals hope to become a good team again, but it wasn't clear if Papelbon would be a part of the club six months after a dugout altercation with teammate and National League MVP Bryce Harper. Papelbon apologized to Harper and the organization, and general manager Mike Rizzo expressed no hesitation in bringing him back because of the due diligence the front office did before acquiring the 35-year-old closer at last season's trade deadline.

"We talked to his teammates in Boston and in Philly, and players who knew him around the league and found no teammate that has a bad thing to say about him," Rizzo said.

Papelbon the closer is undeniable, converting on 24 of 26 save opportunities last season and 349 of 395 throughout his major league career, which includes a World Series title with the Boston Red Sox. Papelbon the teammate is a more complicated character — a mix of intense competitiveness, light-hearted ribbing, loud country music and a Southern twang.

"One incident doesn't define who you are as a human," said Nationals pitcher Bronson Arroyo, who played with Papelbon for parts of three seasons with Boston. "I think that inside this locker room, by the time (the season gets) going here, I don't think there'll be any kind of issues from him. He's a solid guy, and I think anybody would take him on their team."

The image of Papelbon putting his hands on Harper's neck during a game Sept. 27 may follow him for some time. He received some boos the first time he stepped on the mound at Space Coast Stadium for a Nationals spring training game, but Rizzo said fans have to trust him that Papelbon will help the team win.

Harper said when he arrived at camp that he had moved on, and that Papelbon was contrite in his apology.

"I'm an imperfect person living in an imperfect world," Papelbon said. "My whole point is that good can come of this. I can redirect this, and we can go out and win 95 games this season and go into the playoffs and be hot and go win a world championship still."

Inside the Nationals' clubhouse, that belief exists. With a rotation headlined by Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg and a lineup featuring Harper, Washington is again a contender after missing the playoffs last season.

Rizzo traded former closer Drew Storen to the Toronto Blue Jays for outfielder Ben Revere, ensuring Papelbon will be a big part of the Nationals' resurgence, keeping the closer job he wanted when he waived his no-trade clause in July.

Being a leader is something several former teammates say Papelbon is, even if he marches to his own beat.

"I think people didn't see him, like the real Papelbon," Phillies reliever Luis Garcia said. "I really saw that he was different. For us in the bullpen, he was great with us, talking with us about stuff."

Washington relief pitcher Jonathan Papelbon is back with the team less than six months after he went after teammate Bryce Harper in the dugout. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS