Dusty Baker summed up Shawn Kelley’s struggles pretty succinctly after Sunday’s loss in the first game of the doubleheader with the Philadelphia Phillies in D.C., which saw the veteran reliever blow a save opportunity for the second time this season.
Kelley took the mound with a 3-1 lead, and gave up three hits, one a home run, a walk, and three runs total (one of which scored after Koda Glover took over on the hill), recording just one out before he was lifted.
“His fastball was up and then he threw a couple center-cut fastballs,” Baker said, “and just his usually-dependable slider wasn’t working, they were just kind of spinning.”
“At the end of the day, I didn’t make pitches,” Kelley told reporters.
“It wasn’t for lack of effort, but I just wasn’t able to make that adjustment today, especially with the slider.
“I was trying to rely on the fastball up in the zone and that’s a tough lineup to do that against if you’re not just spot-on.”
Baker turned to Kelley for the second straight day after the veteran right-hander came off a stint on the DL for a lower back strain, but said he didn’t think it was an issue of the righty pitching on consecutive days.
“No. Most relievers are better their second day and worse their third day,” Baker said, “so no, I mean, he had about the same velocity, he just didn’t have the location.”
Looking at the heatmap for Nats relievers and umm, I'm not sure you can get more right down the middle than this pic.twitter.com/3rC710hQTp— Jamal Collier (@JamalCollier) May 15, 2017
Kelley is, of course, not the only Nationals’ reliever who has struggled this season.
After the doubleheader on Sunday, the Nationals’ relief corps has the National League’s second-highest ERA (5.33), second-highest FIP (4.84), fourth-highest home runs allowed (21), and second-most blown saves (8).
So, Baker was asked, does the bullpen, as it’s currently composed, have the stuff to get the job done?
“Their stuff is good enough,” Baker said. “You don’t have to throw 98 [mph]. We’ve got a couple guys throwing 98 that still get hit sometimes.
“There have been a bunch of guys that got the job done throwing a whole lot less than 98, like I said, it’s about change of speeds, it’s about location. It’s mostly location. If you locate well, and you have a good enough breaking ball to keep them off your fastball, then that’s what it’s all about.”
“We’ve just to got to go back to the drawing board, and try to figure it out,” Baker added.
“We’ve used different guys at different places and different guys late in the game, we just got Koda and Kelley back, and so in answer to your question, I don’t know right now.”
With an 8.0-game lead in the division (with the second-place team currently five games under .500), do the 24-13 Nats have time to take the patience to let their relievers sort things out?
Do they need to make a trade now to avoid more blown saves, which Baker, on Sunday, acknowledged are “one of the biggest downers” in baseball, “... because it carries over and it also carries over to the opposition, where they think, ‘Hey, man, we can get in their bullpen and win the game.’”
“You’re always pushing for a trade, but ain’t nobody trading right now,” Baker said.
“Sometimes you have no choice but to have patience. Nobody is going to drop you down a knock down closer out of the sky until there are some teams out of it.
“We have to look within right now. People know when you’re in need and when they know you’re in need then they have to rob you of your system.”