Washington Nationals: Shawn Kelley Likely Internal Closer
As the 2017 season edges closer, the Washington Nationals look to Shawn Kelley as their first choice at closer if they stay in-house.
The Washington Nationals are leaning towards Shawn Kelley for the closer role if they go in-house.
As they wait to see if Greg Holland backs off his demand for an opt-out after his first year, time is running short and Kelley is best suited for the job.
FanRag’s John Perotto says that is the direction the Nats are leaning. Washington thought they had Kenley Jansen signed to a four-year contract, but the Los Angeles Dodgers swooped in to retain their closer by giving Jansen a fifth year.
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Kelley filled in the role between the time of Jonathan Papelbon’s implosion and Mark Melancon from the Pittsburgh Pirates last July. In 2016, he recorded seven saves with an ERA of 2.64 over 58 innings. Posting an Adjusted ERA+ of 159 and striking out batters at a 12.4 K/9 rate, he has the goods for the job.
The issue is durability. Kelley’s undergone one Tommy John surgery before. Although he pitched in 67 games last year, he has not topped an average of an inning a game since 2010. The closer needs to throw two or three days in a row. Sometimes, they warm without coming in. Is his arm capable of the wear and tear of what the job requires?
Spring Training will sort some of those issues out. Watch how Kelley is used early in the Grapefruit League season. If Dusty Baker throws him on back-to-back games in the fourth inning, then the Nats are not concerned over his durability. If they alternate him with Blake Treinen, then there is a genuine pause for concern.
Treinen possesses the stuff to close, but his walk rate of 3.7-per-9 is much higher than Kelley’s 1.7. Kelley was the setup man last year, the perfect way to groom future closers. If he cannot crack the role this year, chances are he never will.
The pressure on any internal closing candidate is tremendous. Fans still upset over the departure of Melancon and the inability to land Jansen or Aroldis Chapman, will not show patience if Kelley struggles early. He is in a rough spot learning a potential new role for a team expected to go far.
A few tight games taken care of early will settle most, but any string of failures will reopen that wound.
As we march towards February, whatever the solution is needs to happen soon.