Washington Nationals: Shawn Kelley Dominant Down The Stretch

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

The Washington Nationals have had dominant relief appearances from Shawn Kelley out of the bullpen over the last month

When you talk about the Washington Nationals bullpen, the first pitcher that comes to mind is the closer, Mark Melancon. Melancon picked up the save in yesterday’s 2-1 win over the Miami Marlins, his 16th save in 17 chances since joining the Nats. However, the pitcher I want to focus on is Shawn Kelley, who will be a big key to the Nats success against the Dodgers in the NLDS.

Yesterday, Kelley went one inning and walked one of the four batters he faced as he picked up his 14th hold (third on the team behind Blake Treinen and Oliver Perez). While he didn’t have any strikeouts for the second straight appearance, Kelley has been nearly unhittable lately.

Going back to September 1, the 32-year-old right-hander has given up one hit over his last 12 appearances. During the month of September, teams hit a mere .034 against him. That lone hit came back on September 16 against the Braves when he gave up a two out single to Ender Inciarte.

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So, what has been the key to Kelley being this dominant? According to Brooks Baseball, teams did not have one hit against Kelley’s slider in September (63 pitches) and that lone hit came on a fastball (.059 batting average). The last time that Kelley gave up a run in a game was on August 26 against the Rockies (three runs allowed).

Kelley is a much different pitcher than when he faced the Dodgers in June at Dodger Stadium. On June 22, Kelley tried to get the save when he was the closer for Jonathan Papelbon (on the DL at the time). He ended up getting the blown save in the game where Michael Taylor’s error in center field allowed the tying and winning runs to score.

While Kelley did give up a run in his other appearance against the Dodgers at home (July 21), he appears to have found the key to his success since then. Plus, at home this season, teams are hitting only .159 in 33 appearances (.242 in 33 road appearances).

If there is one thing that should worry fans about Kelley coming into games in the postseason, he does give up a lot of home runs. The nine home runs allowed are the second most of any Washington Nationals reliever (Yusmeiro Petit has allowed 12). With that being said, he has allowed just two home runs since August 1.

Dusty Baker is not one of those managers that gives a specific inning to a middle reliever. However, Kelley seems to be the perfect eighth inning guy when you look at the numbers. This season, he has a 1.01 ERA in the eighth and his 41 strikeouts are tied for the sixth most among National League relievers.

Next: Nats September 2016 Month In Review

This offseason, Kelley signed a three-year deal as one of the many changes the Nats made to their bullpen. So far, it is safe to say that signing has been a success by Mike Rizzo. Kelley heads into the postseason on a dominant note. He will need to play a pivotal role this October if the Nats want to make a deep run.