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Does Washington Nationals’ reliever Shawn Kelley have something to prove?

Washington Nationals’ righty Shawn Kelley made his 2018 debut last night in Atlanta, and reminded everyone what he can do if he’s healthy...

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Washington Nationals Photo Day Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Davey Martinez came into Spring Training and his first major league managerial gig with a plan to try to keep Washington Nationals’ reliever Shawn Kelley healthy after the veteran’s struggles in 2017.

Kelley, who signed a 3-year/$15M deal with the Nationals in 2015, was diagnosed with bone chips in his elbow at the end of a 2017 season which saw the 33-year-old right-hander put up a 7.27 ERA and an 8.62 FIP, with 11 walks (3.81 BB/9), 25 Ks (8.65 K/9), and 12 home runs allowed in 26 IP. He opted against surgery this winter.

In the first year of his deal in 2016, Kelley gave up just 11 HRs total, posting a solid 2.64 ERA, with a 2.97 FIP, 11 walks (1.71 BB/9), and 80 Ks (12.41 K/9) in 58 innings.

“He’s healthy and he’s happy,” Martinez said at the start of Spring Training.

“He’s an awesome guy, his teammates love him, he’s a leader. My job is to keep him healthy the best way possible. And we’re going to try to do that and maximize when we can use him and when not to use him. Who knows, only time will tell, but he might be a guy right now that he pitches one game and he’s off one game just to make sure that he’s healthy moving forward.”

Kelley didn’t have much luck in Grapefruit League action either, giving up 11 hits total, six of them home runs, and eight runs in nine innings, over which opposing hitters posted a .307 AVG against him.

“You know for me,” Martinez explained to reporters before the final exhibition game in D.C. last week, “some of these guys, they get to Spring Training, he throws a lot of strikes, and I think once the bell rings, I think he’ll be okay.

“We’ll have to see, but I have a lot of confidence in Kelley, and he’s a veteran guy, so we’re looking forward to him pitching well and giving us some innings.”

In his first appearance of the season last night, the righty came on in the eighth and tossed a quick, 10-pitch, eight-strike, 1-2-3 inning, striking out two of the three batters he faced.

“That was really good to see, that he came into the game and he threw strikes,” Martinez said after the Nationals’ 8-1 win.

“His adrenaline was back, so it was nice to see and his family was here too, so that was good.”

The first-year skipper was asked about how he’ll handle Kelley going forward.

“I really want to make sure we take care of him,” he said, “especially in the cold weather, and this was a perfect night for him to pitch. I was really a little frantic to pitch him in Cincinnati because of the cold weather and his health. We want him to be right and we want to have him for the whole year.”

“We talked a little bit today and the the last day in Cincy,” Kelley said after his first outing of the season, “... about [how] we wouldn’t necessarily get me out there just to get to me out there. If he needed me, fine, but yeah, I think whether it was a plan or a blessing in disguise, either way I think coming here and getting one under my belt while it was nice and warm was probably the best for my elbow, but we’re going to go back to D.C. and it’s going to be cold, so I’ll have to find a way to deal with it.”

Kelley was asked if he felt he had something to prove after his struggles last season.

“No,” he said. “I know what I can do. Do I want to get it back on track? Hell yeah. That last year wasn’t fun for me personally. But I think the success the team had helped a lot to keep me sane, but I think regardless of what happens after this in my career, I do really want to have a really good 2018, so I’m going to do everything I can to do that and for me it’s just staying healthy.”