Washington Nationals: Setback for Shawn Kelley
By Ron Juckett
Washington Nationals pitcher Shawn Kelley felt neck and back tightness after long-throwing in St. Louis. What does his extended injury mean?
For Washington Nationals reliever Shawn Kelley, 2017 is a literal pain in the neck.
Sidelined since mid-June with a strained right trapezius, Kelley began a rehab program last weekend of long-tossing during the Nats visit to St. Louis. In throwing harder, he felt the neck and upper back tighten and shut down when Washington returned home Monday.
Expected by many to be the closer at the start of Spring Training, this year has been a disaster. In 22 games, Kelley struggled to keep the ball in the yard and runners off base. His ERA of 7.00 and WHIP of 1.611 serves as a cruel reminder to fans how shaky the bullpen is.
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Kelley has four saves on the year, second behind injured Koda Glover, but blew two. Between May 19 and June 10, he pitched 3.1 innings in five games on regular starters rest. The confidence in his ability pre-injury was not there.
Over 18 innings this season, Kelley surrendered nine home runs and walks. The earned run count stands at 14. Short of being designated for assignment, this year cannot get worse for him and the fans.
Yet, he figures to play a critical role down the stretch as the Nats prepare to defend their National League East crown in the playoffs.
Remember last year, Kelley was so solid, he closed games between the departure of Jonathan Papelbon and the arrival of Mark Melancon. He pitched to rave reviews as he fanned 80 in 58 innings with a 2.64 ERA.
His playoff contributions were heavy. Before an injury cut his series short, Kelley retired five of the six Los Angeles Dodgers faced, striking out three. Under contract through the end of 2018, he was the backbone of the setup core.
Oh, how times have changed.
With the latest setback, treatment for Kelley is uncertain. An injection into the injured area might help, but he is back to square one. His return to the major-league roster unlikely before the trade deadline.
Which leads to the big question what should we expect when Kelley returns?
If you assume the Nats grab a closer before July ends, expect Kelley to ease into early setup roles upon his return. Forget him leaving via trade or demotion. He is on the Nats roster next year.
Which Kelley we see is uncertain. The confident one who if not for two Tommy John surgeries would have been the closer, or the pitcher who allowed the same number of home runs this year as last in one-third the innings.
Next: David Phelps: A closer look
Buckle those seatbelts, folks.