Asked about the possibility of further bullpen additions in a January 31st interview on MLB Network Radio, Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo told Sirius/XM hosts Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette he thought the Nats’ bullpen was solid as is, and if righties Shawn Kelley and Koda Glover are able to stay healthy, it’s a deep relief corps.
“We’ve got good medical reports on Shawn Kelley and Koda Glover,” Rizzo explained, “... which is going to really, really help our depth in our bullpen, and with [Sean] Doolittle, [Ryan] Madson, and [Brandon] Kintzler at the back end of those games we feel really good about that.”
Kelley, in particular, is a concern for the Nationals after the 33-year-old right-hander, who signed a 3-year/$15M deal with Washington in 2015, was diagnosed with bone chips in his elbow at the end of a 2017 campaign which saw him post a 7.27 ERA, a 8.62 FIP, 11 walks (3.81 BB/9), 25 Ks (8.65 K/9) and 12 homers allowed in 26 IP.
In the first year of his deal in 2016, Kelley gave up just 11 HRs total in 58 IP, while posting a solid 2.64 ERA, with a 2.97 FIP, 11 walks (1.71 BB/9), and 80 Ks (12.41 K/9).
Getting a vote of confidence from Rizzo, Kelley told reporters in West Palm Beach, FL, on Friday, was important, and part of an ongoing conversation going back to the end of last season.
“We had some good talks at the end of the year last year,” Kelley explained, “because late in the season when I was still kind of pitching but I wasn’t as effective down the stretch, my slider wasn’t as sharp, my velocity was a little down, and that’s when me, him, and Dusty [Baker] sat down and we had a good heart to heart about, ‘Look, we’ve got some reinforcements, we’ve got some good arms, we’re rolling right now, let’s get you right and start thinking about next year instead of trying to power through the end of this season.”
Kelley’s campaign ended after a September 22nd appearance, when the Nationals placed him on the DL. He acknowledged at that point that he had been pitching with bone chips through most of the season.
“We had a good talk, and Rizzo said, ‘Look, the only thing I want you to do is — whatever procedure we decide to do, stem cell, or the bone chip or whatever...’ — and we did the stem cell — ‘... was just get healthy. Come to Spring Training ready to go because we need you and we want you.’
“So we had that conversation, so I knew he was counting on me to be healthy and one of the trainers came and saw me in the offseason, about a month ago, and checked me out, wanted to get that vote of confidence, I think, and not just hear me say it, and so I’m happy, I’m healthy, and trying to do what I did in ‘16.”
Once he started to get going in his preparation for the 2018 campaign, which will be his tenth in the majors, the Nationals sent the trainer to check on his progress.
“One of the athletic trainers came down,” Kelley said, “... went through my workout, went through my throwing program with me. Once I told him I was good, I was throwing, doing some bullpens, they came down and checked on me to see how things were going.”
Is that unusual?
“That’s the first time I’ve ever had it happen,” Kelley said.
“But I understand the circumstances, because it’s kind of a big deal, depends on whether they need to sign somebody else, right, if I’m like, ‘I can’t throw.’
“So, yeah, but it’s cool, that shows you how much they care. A team that wasn’t expecting to compete for a World Series wouldn’t be paying trainers to go check on players in the offseason.”