Shawn Kelley signed with Washington as a free agent last December, agreeing on a 3-year/$15M deal after a 1.0 fWAR 2015 campaign in San Diego which saw him put up a 2.45 ERA, a 2.57 FIP, 15 walks (2.63 BB/9) and 63 Ks (11.05 K/9) in 53 appearances and 51 ⅓ innings pitched.
"Kelley is another aggressive right-handed pitcher that attacks hitters," Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo told reporters shortly after the deal was announced.
"He's got a really good sinking fastball and a wipeout slider and [he's] a guy that's pitched leverage innings for different teams, proved that he could do it in big markets like New York City and was great with the Padres, so we liked what we saw when he pitched against us at times and scouts really liked his demeanor and his aggressive nature on the mound."
In Kelley’s first season in the nation’s capital, the 32-year-old saved seven games and posted a 2.64 ERA, a 2.97 FIP, 11 walks (1.71 BB/9) and 80 Ks (12.41 K/9) in 67 games and 58 innings pitched, holding opposing hitters to a .193/.232/.403 line against in a 1.1 fWAR campaign.
After a solid regular season, the eight-year veteran made his postseason debut in Game 3 of the NLDS with the Los Angeles Dodgers, throwing 1 2⁄3 scoreless on 24 pitches, striking out three in the Nationals’ 8-3 win in Dodger Stadium.
Kelley’s second outing in Game 5 of the Division Series didn’t go as well.
He took the mound with two on and two out in a 2-1 game in LA’s favor and gave up a two-run triple on a 1-0 slider to Justin Turner that drove in what ended up being the winning run in the decisive 4-3 loss.
Kelley left the game after that at bat when he felt something in his right arm and experienced numbness in his fingers.
“[It] looked like Shawn Kelley hurt himself pretty badly on that slider that he hung to Turner,” Dusty Baker told reporters after the season-ending loss.
“He said he couldn't feel his fingers on his right hand, you know what I mean, so that's not a good sign. Especially with a guy that's had two Tommy Johns already.”
It made the loss to the Dodgers even tougher to take for Baker.
“Kelley, he was lights-out in L.A., and he hung the slider, and he might have blown his arm out. So that's what I'm more concerned about than anything.”
With the loss of feeling in his fingers, Kelley explained, he wasn’t sure he could control where he was throwing the ball.
"I didn't know if I could throw anything where I wanted to or know where the ball was going. I told them that, and they decided to get me out of there," Kelley told reporters including CSN Mid-Atlantic writer Chase Hughes after the game.
Kelley said then that he didn’t think it was as bad as initially feared, and he thought he would be okay after some rest.
“A few days to quiet down,” Kelley said, as quoted by Washington Post writer Chelsea Janes. “Obviously, we’ve got time now.”
"I was pretty confident there wasn't any damage to my ligament or anything. It's tough to go on when you only have feeling in two fingers. And scary at the same time."
When Rizzo talked to reporters, including MASN’s Mark Zuckerman last week, he said that it looked like Kelley would be ready for the start of his second season in D.C.
“He’s fine,” Rizzo said. “He’ll be ready for the offseason and his preparation for Spring Training.”
Will Kelley return to form in 2017 after the scary end of his 2016 campaign? He has two years and $11M left on his contract with the Nationals.
He got most of his work in the eighth inning this season, posting a 1.01 ERA and a .151/.186/.312 line against in 39 appearances and 26 2⁄3 IP in the eighth.
If he suffers any setbacks, the Nats will have two holes to fill at the back end of the bullpen, since their closer, Mark Melancon is set to hit free agency this winter.