Washington Nationals: Handicapping The Race For Closer

Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /
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As we watch the Nats flirt with Joe Nathan, Eric Gagne and John Lannan to bolster their bullpen depth, Shawn Kelley enters the heart of the Grapefruit League as the closer.

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A capable bridge last year between the departure of Jonathan Papelbon and Melancon, Kelley has everything you want from a closer. He can pound the strike zone, strike out batters at will and not beat himself.

Yet, there are real concerns. Aside from a recent Tommy John surgery that limits his durability comes another arm injury suffered last season in the playoffs.

When we keep hearing interest in a series of pitchers, you have to stop and ask yourself if the Nationals trust Kelley to not only stay healthy, but handle the pressure as closer.

Of the three choices, he has looked the worst this spring. But, you really cannot read too much into numbers right now. He is loosening up and working on getting ready for the long road ahead. Saying he looks worse than others does not mean bad.

No one expects him to be pulling off the Koda Glover sow. Spring Training is about preparation and mechanics. Until Kelley relieves a starter and pitches, anything he does now should not count against him unless the wheels fall off.

Kelley’s performance last year earns his position this spring. The questions arise later with potential back-to-back games and trying too hard and overthrowing.

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With a nod to veterans, the job is Kelley’s. How long he holds it depends on his stuff and health.