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Nationals could be getting back two key relievers very soon

Shawn Kelley hopes to return Friday. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Shawn Kelley’s opponents in Wednesday’s simulated game were dressed in blue, though very much by accident. Trea Turner and Stephen Drew just happened to wear the same Jackie Robinson tribute shirt when they headed out to face Kelley, who is working his way back from a lower back strain.

Drew was just tracking pitches and hasn’t faced live pitching since he hit the disabled list in mid-April. Turner took some hacks, one of which sent a line drive back through the middle. Kelley dodged the pitch, and any injury-related trouble. The back trouble that forced him to the DL late Friday gave him no issues as he threw 23 pitches to the men in blue.

“Each day up until today it still continued to get better. I didn’t just wake up like five days ago and feel amazing,” Kelley said. “Yesterday felt really, really good and today felt pretty close to normal. Getting that in, and hoping that tomorrow and the next day I’m 100 percent.”

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Kelley threw “all two of his pitches” — fastball and slider — mixing locations and not holding back. When he went into his manager’s office to follow up afterward, he gave a promising report.

“He was very happy,” Nationals Manager Dusty Baker said. “… Says he’ll be ready.”

Kelley is eligible to return from the disabled list Friday and said he thinks he will be ready to do so, though he has not heard any official word.

The Nationals have been ultra-cautious with their relievers in situations such as these, often waiting a few extra days just to be sure — much like they did with right-hander Koda Glover, who is on rehab assignment at Class AA Harrisburg. But with their bullpen struggling, wandering through the schedule without a closer or obvious setup man, the Nationals might not be able to afford a few extra days for Kelley, who does not seem to want them.

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Glover, meanwhile, threw a scoreless inning for Harrisburg on Wednesday. He allowed one hit and struck out a batter, and Baker got a good report on him, too. Glover was placed on the disabled list the last week of April and is eligible to return whenever the Nationals deem him ready.

“He told us yesterday he’ll be back soon. He wasn’t that far off — not like Kelley was,” Baker said. “Both of them could be back possibly this weekend.”

The Nationals need them both. Kelley and Glover will pair to pitch the ninth inning for now, as they were doing before their injuries, replacing Blake Treinen in the closer’s role. Their return, however, will force the Nationals to make some roster decisions they had so far postponed. Jacob Turner has no options left, but might not fit in a bullpen with both Kelley and Glover. Perhaps he could move to the rotation to clear space for one of them. Matt Grace also has options and could be sent down to clear a spot. A.J. Cole, who will start Thursday, could also be optioned if the Nationals decided to move Turner to the rotation.

Either way, the return of Kelley and Glover seems to signal much needed aid for a bullpen that cannot seem to find its footing, and desperately needs to do so.