Some might not understand why, but Jonathan Papelbon is sitting back and smiling.
Drenched in his usual pounds of ice and dressed in the cut-off t-shirt that doesn't seem to leave his body, the closer explained his contentment. This season -- the one looking decidedly different from his last few -- has been, he said, his most satisfying.
Papelbon knows he is getting it done once again, and that he's doing it in just a slightly different manner than folks are used to.
"No question," said Papelbon of his assertion that this has been his most accomplished campaign to date. "This year I've felt I've made leaps and bounds. I've had things not necessarily go my way, when I've had to get myself out of those situations and I've been able to grind through it. In the past I haven't been able to do that as much, but it's also teaching me a lot. Of late, I've been able to put all of that together and I'm reaping the benefits from it."
Bottom line: The Red Sox closer is 16 of 17 in save opportunities, has a 1.93 ERA while striking out 30 in 28 innings and allowing opponents just a .224 batting average (just slightly off last season's .223 clip). And just for good measure, Papelbon has stranded his only inherited runner.
But, in some corners, those resume-builders are being brushed aside. The problem is that many of those numbers have become expected of the 28-year-old.
They look for something different, and in Papelbon's surreal season those abnormalities haven't been hard to find.
The closer already has more five more walks (13) than in all of last season, with his opponents' on-base percentage standing at .320, well above his career mark of .256. And then there are those pitches. Papelbon is averaging 18.3 tosses per inning after three straight seasons of coming in at 15-per a frame.
But what has jumped the most are the baserunners.
In just five of Papelbon's 27 games has he made it through an appearance without allowing a baserunner, that compared to the 15 clean outings he boasted by this time last year.
He is doing it, most likely well enough to make his fourth All-Star Game. He's just doing it a little differently.
"I feel it's been a different kind of year," Papelbon explained. "This year has been a big year for me. I've got four years in now. Hitters know me in and out. Hitters know exactly what I'm trying to do. This is a big year for me to make adjustments and a big year in terms of knowing that in order to be the best I have to make my adjustments. I feel like I'm doing that well. Adjustments come with the learning curve, and there have definitely been situations where you're going to have to rear back and get a little bit more. I've had to do that this year."
The biggest change in regards to Papelbon's approach has been his reliance on a newly-refurbished slider. According to STATS Inc., against right-handed hitters last season, the closer threw the pitch 14.7 percent of the time. This time around it is being used on a gaudy 27.1 percent of his pitches to righties.
Perhaps even more telling is how often Papelbon is breaking out the slider on the first pitch, coming out of the gate with the slider against right-handers 20 percent of the time, compared to the six percent of a year ago.
"Hitters know me well enough now that I think it's time for me to make my adjustments and try and get better and better. That's what I'm trying to do," he explained. "I'm throwing my slider more and that's become another out-pitch for me."
Papelbon understands this metamorphosis is a work in progress, having to execute more escapes than ever before. Last season, for example, first batters had just a .239 on-base percentage, compared to the .370 OBP for leadoff men this year. He has also already totaled just one fewer at-bat with runners in scoring position (40) than all of last season.
But, guess what? The results have usually been the same.
With runners in scoring position Papelbon has allowed just 4 hits in the 40 at-bats, and one hit in 19 at-bats in the same situation with two outs.
He's a different pitcher this season, to be sure. But no matter. A closer's job is to close, and Papelbon is still fulfilling that description just as he always has.
"Oh yeah, I have that same feeling," he said. "I think that's all that matters. Getting the job done."