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What will the Nationals do in the ninth inning without Jonathan Papelbon?

Shawn Kelley closed out Monday night’s game in Papelbon’s absence. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

A few hours after the Nationals placed closer Jonathan Papelbon on the disabled list on Tuesday, Manager Dusty Baker had to answer the question of how he might configure the Nationals bullpen without him.

“I don’t know yet,” Baker said, and that is where things stand.

Baker said he considers the Nationals’ sudden need for ninth-inning coverage similar to their situation in spring training, when he was feeling out his relievers and trying to distribute roles.

“This is similar, except we have a little more background on left-right, who can go consecutive games, who’s better with runners inherited, who’s better with first-inning efficiency, all this goes into the equation,” Baker said. “So [pitching coach Mike Maddux] and I, we’ll put our heads together before the game, and try to play out as many scenarios as you can. What if this guy’s up? What if this guy’s up? Are they going to pinch-hit for this guy? Will it be with a righty or a lefty? You just got to figure that out. Some of it is as we go and as the scoreboard dictates what we do.”

Baker chose Shawn Kelley for a five-out save Monday night. He attacked and pitched fearlessly, struck out four of the five Cubs he retired, his fastball consistently at 93. Could Kelley, who closed for the Yankees briefly (four saves) after Mariano Rivera retired, be ready to step into that role?

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“You would have thought if he had closer makeup or if he was going to be the closer, it would have been before he got to his fourth or fifth team. That’s number one,” Baker said. “And number two, we have to be aware because this guy had Tommy John in high school and he had another Tommy John after, so we’re very cautious of how he feels. We ask him every day.”

Kelley has made 126 appearances in the seventh inning, 117 in the eighth and 73 in the ninth. He has a career 2.78 ERA in the seventh, 3.29 in the eighth and 5.83 in the ninth. Kelley has saved five games in his career. He said Monday night, and again Tuesday, that the ninth inning feels no different to him than the seventh or eighth.

“I’m still going to move around and get ready just like I always do,” Kelley said. “Whether the phone rings at 9:15 p.m. or 9:45 p.m. hopefully, not like 11 p.m., those four hour games. I’ll be ready to pitch whenever he wants me.”

Young lefty Felipe Rivero was warming in the eighth inning Monday night and has swing-and-miss stuff with a high-90s fastball. Sammy Solis and Blake Treinen both throw in the mid-to-upper 90s, and Baker has used both in the eighth at times this year. Baker said he told Matt Belisle, just activated from Class AAA Syracuse, that he isn’t quite sure how they will use the veteran yet. Belisle said he does not care much either way. He figured to fit more in the middle innings than the later ones.

Kelley will likely be unavailable Tuesday night against the Cubs. Should the Nationals hold a lead by the later innings, Baker will have decisions to make he has not had to make before.