On what had otherwise been an encouraging night at the end of a long and emotionally grueling day, Kelley melted down. Asked to pitch the ninth inning with the Nats leading 25-1, the veteran allowed three runs on four hits, one of which was a two-run homer by Austin Jackson. After that pitch, Kelley slammed his glove to the ground and glared into the dugout. Even amateur interpreters might surmise that Kelley was not pleased to be pitching in that situation at all.
“No, you can ask everybody in the bullpen. When [Wander] Suero’s pitch count got up, I said, ‘I’ve probably got the ninth.’ I figured I was the freshest reliever and I was going to throw the ninth,” Kelley said Tuesday night, adding that his frustration was due to disagreements with the umpires who were prodding him on his pace.
“Like I said, for me, I’m not justifying it. I should not have thrown my glove and acted like a baby out there. But at the same time, I’m acting like it’s one to one for me. I’m giving it everything I’ve got.”
Kelley recorded the final three outs, nonetheless, and the Nationals won, 25-4.
Earlier in the day, the Nationals traded Brandon Kintzler to the Cubs. Mike Rizzo and Dave Martinez said one reason they felt they could make the deal was the emergence of Suero, who can pitch multiple innings and has proved himself resilient when handed heavy workloads. But when Suero’s pitch count climbed to 29, Martinez called on Kelley for the ninth inning.
Just before the home run he allowed to Jackson, Kelley got into a heated conversation with second base umpire Tripp Gibson III. He had also had a back and forth with home plate umpire Adrian Johnson. He said he felt like calls pitchers were getting earlier in the game were not going his way.
“[Johnson] told me to slow down. I was a) just trying to keep it going, and b) I’ve used the quick pitch sometimes. He told me to slow down one time, and the other guy behind me [at second base] told me I had to come set or it’s a balk,” Kelley said. “… Then the home plate umpire was telling me to hurry up. I was like, ‘But you told me to slow down.’ It was kind of frustrating. That’s all that was about.”
That glare into the dugout, however, casts unavoidable doubt about the true source of that frustration. Kelley’s teammates seemed to think so, too. After the game, Ryan Madson and Max Scherzer approached Kelley for a hushed conversation that did not get heated and ended with pats on the back. But conversations like those do not generally happen after a player shows frustration in a normal bad outing.
Martinez said Tuesday that he thought Kelley was just frustrated with the umpires.
“I think the homer, and the whole thing with trying to pitch fast and the umpire telling him to stop,” Martinez said. “He was arguing. I gather that’s what it was.”
But whatever the reality of the situation, the incident raised questions on a day that initially looked like it would bolster the notion of team solidarity, not undermine it.
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