Shawn Kelley held opposing hitters to a .206 AVG on his slider in the first year of his 3-year/$15M deal with the Washington Nationals in 2016.
They were hitting just .214 on the breaking ball when he went to the 10-Day DL on June 18th with a right trapezius strain.
The opposition was all over the right-hander’s heater, however, hitting .295 on his four-seamer after he’d held hitters to a .183 AVG on the pitch last season.
The velocity on his four-seamer was up around 92-93 mph like it was in 2016, but it was getting barreled up and hit hard, and when it was, it was going out.
After giving up just two homers on 505 fastballs in 2016, Kelley had given up six on 198 fastballs before he landed on the disabled list.
He’s surrendered nine home runs total in 18 innings this season, after giving up nine in 58 innings overall in 2016.
Kelley had a long stay at Triple-A when he returned to game action, throwing 6 2⁄3 IP over eight appearances with the Nationals’ top minor league affiliate before he was called back up to the majors Thursday afternoon.
“It was good,” Kelley told reporters when asked about the prolonged rehab stint when he spoke before the first of four in San Diego.
“Especially early,” he said, “... to know that I didn’t need to try to do too much the first couple outings, and I could actually go out there and kind of work on some things and make sure I felt good and then start to ramp it up kind of towards the end of it.”
Kelley said he finally knew he was right when he started to get control of his slider back.
“That’s something that usually as soon as the adrenaline goes up, the intensity goes up,” he explained. “Something that’s usually always there for me, but the last few games I was able to move it around, throw it where I wanted, take a little off, put a little more on it, so that’s kind of when I know I’m right when I’m able to do things with my slider.”
Kelley returned just in time, since the Nationals had to place Ryan Madson on the 10-Day DL, (retroactive to August 14th) on Thursday night with what was described in a press release as a right finger sprain.
“He has like a soreness in his finger, in his index finger, in his throwing hand,” Dusty Baker told reporters in Petco Park.
“So we thought it would be best since we can use the DL for three days, so hopefully he’ll be better in a week.”
“You hate to see them keep going down, but it’s better now than later,” Baker said.
The issue, which Baker originally said he thought was a blister, ended up being worse, but the Nats’ skipper said the issue only came up for the 36-year-old right-hander in the last few days.
“It just popped up the other day, because he was going to be in that game -- the game that [Brandon] Kintzler came in to be the set-up man, so these things happen,” he said, referring to this past Saturday night’s game against the San Francisco Giants.
“They just pop up. We don’t know how, or he doesn’t know how or why or when or anything.”
“Fortunately, Kelley, we felt was ready, so we’re going to activate Kelley in that spot.”
Madson has been lights out since he was acquired from the Oakland A’s, throwing nine scoreless innings in which he’s walked one batter and struck out 13, holding opposing hitters to a .161/.212/.290 line.
Brandon Kintzler, acquired from the Minnesota Twins at the non-waiver deadline, has been holding down the eighth with Madson out, as he did again on Thursday night in San Diego, and Sean Doolittle, who came over in the trade from the A’s with Madson, earned his 10th save in 10 opportunities in the Nationals’ 2-1 win.
Can Kelley step in and handle the seventh, where Kintzler had been before Madson went down? Will Baker and the Nationals trust Kelley to jump right back in?