WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Shawn Kelley appeared in a Grapefruit League game on Sunday, the first time he had done that in 10 days. For Kelley, two Tommy John surgeries into his career, absence naturally stirs concern. Where had he been?
“I’ve been trying to get outs over there on Field 5 in the minor league games,” said Kelley, who like several key Nationals relievers has a light official workload but a substantial one in reality. He, Sammy Solis, Blake Treinen, Oliver Perez, Joe Blanton and others have spent much of the past week or so building up in minor league games, while pitchers fighting for roster spots showcased themselves in the major league games.
Kelley and others threw two-inning outings this week, aimed at stretching them out beyond normal usage. Treinen, Jacob Turner and Blanton were scheduled to throw three innings each in minor league games Sunday while others threw in the major league game.
“We’re trying to get them stretched out more than just that one inning,” Manager Dusty Baker said. “Say you get an extra-inning game and you’ve got to leave them in there. Then you sit down and warm up, sit down and warm up. So they needed to be stretched out, too. Same with Kelley today. We wanted him to go one fraction of an inning and then come back out, because it’s synonymous to playing real games.”
Kelley threw 1 2/3 innings Sunday, allowed a hard-hit double and another hit, struck out one and didn’t walk a batter. He now has thrown a total of 4 2/3 official innings in Grapefruit League games, has four strikeouts and one walk, and is pitching to a 1.93 ERA.
Solis, also considered a bullpen lock, has made five total appearances, and is pitching to a 4.76 ERA in Grapefruit League play. Baker said earlier this week he does not worry about Solis’s results as much as his health, which has been a problem throughout the left-hander’s career. Solis is entering his third season of major league work — his first as a well-established bullpen piece — and thinks he is finally learning how to manage the injury trouble that led the Nationals to convert him from a starter to a reliever and also sent him to the disabled list last season. He now estimates he spends an hour and a half of each day in the training room, preparing to pitch and working through preventative exercises.
“I’ve just been more proactive with treatment. I’m sure it’s over the top at times. I’m in the training room a lot,” Solis said. “… I have multiple nagging things I have to take care of. If I get lax on it at all, they tend to act up, so I don’t really have a choice.”
That Solis, Treinen, Kelley, Perez and Blanton are accumulating innings out of sight of the major league coaching staff seems to indicate some level of comfort with their positions on the part of Baker, pitching coach Mike Maddux and their staff. Turner threw on the minor league side Sunday, too, though he has made most of his appearances in front of the big league staff.
Koda Glover, on the other hand, continues to get his innings on the major league side. Enny Romero, another Opening Day bullpen candidate, should return from World Baseball Classic work on Monday, so his schedule remains to be seen.
For now, the important point is that what appears to be a light workload for many key Nationals relievers is not what it seems. With 10 days to go until the Nationals leave West Palm Beach for the spring, the presumptive bullpen locks are all on regular schedules, accumulating innings one way or another.