Just days ago, Nationals manager Dusty Baker was staying noticeably silent about who would take on the closer’s role with Jonathan Papelbon on the disabled list. The “D.C. Strangler” suffered an intercostal strain and hit the 15-day DL, leaving the back end of the Washington bullpen somehow both more and less likely to choke.
Living up to Papelbon’s numbers would be tough for anyone; despite being better known for things like grabbing his crotch at fans and trying to choke out one of his teammates, he’s been solid for the Nationals (except when facing the Phillies). The 35-year-old has 16 SV on the season, finishing 23 games and allowing 2 HR, 9 ER, and 8 BB with 19 SO through 24.2 IP.
So perhaps it was shock that kept Baker so mum on the issue, or he needed time to stroke his chin and mull over his options, but whatever the case, it was set-up man Shawn Kelley called upon to make a five-out save on Monday night (which he did), and on Thursday night, with Washington reliever Felipe Rivero let a pair of runners come aboard with only one out in the eighth inning against the Padres, it was Kelley coming out of the pen again.
This was a simple task for Kelley at this point, who had made a pair of 1.2 IP appearances in his last two games. Thursday, he just needed to get two outs, and used 12 pitches to get them. Baker was more forthcoming with his decision in the post game.
“This is what we settled upon,” Baker said. “Mike [Maddux] and I talked about it, and we think he’s best suited for that until Pap gets back.”
The 32-year-old Kelley has been pitching in MLB since 2009, when he showed up in 41 games for the Mariners. He served as a floater between the big club and Triple-A , suffering an injury in 2010 that needed six stitches after teammate Mark Lowe kicked him in the face.
This will not be his first fill-in role as a closer, having done so for David Robertson in 2014 as a Yankee after being traded to New York the previous year. The Nationals brought him and his career 3.57 ERA and 1.200 WHIP on board this past December with a three-year, $15 million deal.