Washington Nationals: Shawn Kelley possibly nearing the end

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 13: Shawn Kelley /

Washington Nationals reliever Shawn Kelley has struggled mightily this spring. Could this signal the end of his professional career?

Over the last couple years, the Washington Nationals‘ biggest weakness has been their relief corps.

Jonathan Papelbon began the 2016 campaign as the closer and struggled mightily, highlighting the Nats’ weak bullpen. However, despite the bullpen being a glaring weakness, Shawn Kelley turned in an excellent season. In 67 games, the right-hander pitched to a 2.64 ERA and even converted seven saves.

The Nats’ bullpen was a weakness once again in 2017, but this time, Kelley was the arguably biggest culprit.

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Kelley, who had undergone two Tommy John Surgeries prior to signing with the Nats, had a terrifying ending to his 2016 season. Dusty Baker called upon Kelley in the late innings of game five of the NLDS, but he was forced to leave the game after he lost sensation in his arm.

For a pitcher who had already undergone two Tommy John Surgeries, this was a nightmare. Fortunately, the Nats’ medical staff attributed it to a pinched nerve and everything would be okay.

But then, 2017 rolled around and everything was not okay.

Throughout 2017, Kelley was just a shell of his former self. It was nearly impossible to believe that this was the same guy that had turned in a dominant season just a year before.

When all was said and done, Kelley pitched to a horrific 7.27 ERA in just 26 innings while battling various elbow injuries.

After the season, Kelley revealed that his elbow may require another surgery. This would not be Tommy John, but another elbow surgery nonetheless. Due to his extensive injury history and several prior operations, the Nats elected to attempt a stem cell injection instead.

Kelley was pitching through injuries in 2017, which lead to a dreadful season, but the stem cell injection would help him return to form in ’18. Well, at least that was the goal.

The early results this spring were promising. Kelley dominated in his first four outings, allowing just one hit and two walks en route to four scoreless frames.

Then, the 2017 version of Kelley returned.

In his three most recent appearances, Kelley has allowed seven runs on five homers in just three innings. The ball tends to carry more in spring training, so the homers can be overlooked to an extent, but this follows the disturbing trend he set last year.

In just 26 innings last season, Kelley served up 12 long balls. Home runs were not the only cause of his abysmal season, but they were a large factor. If his devastating slider is not breaking like it is supposed to, it travels a long way.

When Kelley’s slider is not right, he more closely resembles a batting practice pitcher than a dominant reliever.

If Kelley is still not right, which is likely due to the enormous amount of stress his elbow has endured throughout his career, his days of being a dominant reliever are like one of his hanging sliders: long gone.

With Jayson Werth gone, Kelley is viewed as one of the clubhouse leaders. He appears to be well-liked by his teammates and is a great guy, but his elbow may not allow him to continue as a professional pitcher.

The arm is just simply not built to endure as much stress as Kelley has put his through.

If his last three outings are any indication of what is to come, Kelley’s time with the Nats is nearing an end. His contract is expiring at the end of the season, and the Nats would be better off either releasing him or having him spend the season on the disabled list.

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Unfortunately for Kelley, it appears his professional career is just about over. It is a shame because he is very talented and is a great guy. His elbow just doesn’t appear to have any pitches left in it.