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Washington Nationals’ bullpen update: Weird Shawn Kelley is back

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The horse head is back. Will Shawn Kelley return to form on the mound in 2018?

MLB: Washington Nationals at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Entering the 2016 season, his first as a National, Shawn Kelley had a reputation for doing things that were just a little off-beat.

For instance, he’d go around wearing a horse-head:

(Bill Kostroun/Associated Press - c/o Washington Post)

However, when he got to Washington, the horse-head version of Shawn Kelley seemed to disappear; in 2016, he was all business while the team’s setup man, and in 2017, a season marked by injury and struggle, he was too busy figuring himself out to have fun.

But this Spring Training, something changed:

Kelley, clean trimmed in earlier seasons, also came back sporting a massive beard, perhaps to fill the void — both physically and in terms of leadership — that Jayson Werth used to occupy.

Pre-beard:

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Post-beard:

MLB: Washington Nationals-Media Day Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

From The Washington Post’s Jorge Castillo:

Kelley and Ryan Madson... regularly text Werth. The messages aren’t baseball-related. One of the subjects broached is Kelley’s attempt to replace Werth as the team’s hair and beard titleholder.

“He’s like: ‘Good try. It won’t be on my level,’ ” said Kelley, who arrived at camp basically ready to be cast for the final season of “Game of Thrones.” “We mess with each other.”

For Kelley, the 2018 season — the last on his three-year deal with the Nationals — will be one in which he attempts to, at best, regain his 2016 form in which he pitched nearly perfectly as the setup man, and, at worst, revert to the mean somewhere between the past two years’ results.

At Winterfest, Kelley explained what went wrong for him last year.

“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.”

If the horse head and beard help him get his velocity back, then it’s likely that nobody will even notice it by the end of the season.