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Washington Nationals Spring Training 2017: Will Shawn Kelley claim the closer’s role?

In our latest look at the Nationals’ search for a closer, we profile veteran right-hander Shawn Kelley, a top candidate for the role this Spring.

Though his 2016 campaign in the nation’s capital ended with what looked like it could have been a serious injury, Shawn Kelley, who experienced numbness in his fingers before he was lifted from Game 5 of the NLDS with the LA Dodgers, told reporters early in Spring Training that he would have been good to go had the Washington Nationals won that game and advanced.

“I went out and played catch just to make sure everything was good and it was,” Kelley said last month, as quoted by Washington Times’ writer Todd Dybas:

“If we’d have won Game 5, I would have been able to pitch in the next game. I would have been fine. It was nerve thing. Kind of a numbness nerve issue that had to quiet down. Just kind of a freak thing. I would have been fine the next day, honestly.”

Kelley has, of course, undergone Tommy John surgery twice already, so while he is in contention for the Nats’ closer’s role in Spring Training, Dusty Baker said his injury history is a consideration as the Nationals decide which pitcher will work the ninth.

“He seems the likely candidate,” Baker told reporters, “but we’ve got to see can his arm sustain or else we’ll be looking for somebody else and be without him too.

“That’s the thing you don’t want. Then you’ve got to replace two people. So we’ll see.”

Kelley, in an MLB Network Radio interview last month, said he’s ready for whatever the Nationals ask him to do this season, and if it’s closing out games, he’d love to do it.

“I like those situations,” Kelley said when asked about taking on the pressure of pitching in the ninth.

“I like it coming down to me,” he explained. “I get nervous when my friends or my teammates or a team I’m cheering for is out there and I can’t be out there helping them. I just want to be in that moment, and put it on my shoulders, hop on my back and let me do it.”

Baker, in a pregame press conference with reporters this morning, said he is going to pick one closer, as opposed to going with a closer-by-committee, because he doesn’t think closer-by-committee works.

While he would have liked to have landed one of the high-end closers the Nationals pursued this winter, Baker explained, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman, “... as a manager, you have to figure out what you’ve got and try to make it work.”:

“At this point it doesn’t look like we’re going to get any other outside help, so you start looking to what you have on the inside...

“I’m going to ask my staff. I’m going to ask my catchers who they think has the makeup and endurance to do it. And who has the stomach. And who’s eccentric enough to handle it. Or who has the best ‘I don’t care attitude’ to handle it.

“Because you see guys get ruined, or at least hurt, by blown saves...”

Will the Nationals give Kelley the closer’s role and manage his innings? Will they give it to one of their younger relievers (Blake Treinen, Koda Glover) and keep Kelley in a set-up role he was so effective in last season? Will they give Joe Nathan one last chance to prolong his career and earn a few more saves? Baker, his coaches and his catchers will make a decision over the next few weeks...