When Washington Nationals reliever Shawn Kelley entered in the ninth inning of Tuesday’s 25-4 blowout of the New York Mets, it was an unusual position for a veteran reliever to be in.
He still had three outs to get, though, despite the bountiful lead. Once Austin Jackson cranked a three-run home run off Kelley, a mere flesh wound toward the Nationals’ chance of victory, Kelley threw his glove on the ground and glared into the dugout.
Kelley said postgame he was frustrated at the umpires for first telling him to slow his pace, then asking him to speed it up. According to Kelley, there was no frustration toward pitching in what had been a 24-run game.
Regardless of intention, Kelley was designated for assignment Wednesday after his action was deemed “disrespectful to the name on the front of the jersey,” general manager Mike Rizzo said Wednesday. Washington recalled right-hander Jimmy Cordero to replace Kelley.
After a tense trade deadline that saw reliever Brandon Kintzler shipped off to the Cubs, Rizzo decided to keep the majority of the team intact. Before the Nationals play the Mets on Wednesday, Washington rests 5½ games out of the National League East lead, in striking distance despite sitting at .500.
So, Washington’s series-opening slugfest, setting a franchise record with 25 runs scored, was a welcome sight for a team that has struggled to maintain consistency. Kelley’s outburst — “I acted like a baby,” he said postgame — put a sour note on affairs.
“Knowing what we did yesterday, scoring all those runs, everybody’s feeling good, he comes in the game, slams his glove,” manager Dave Martinez said. “That to me bothered me. A lot. And like I said, it was disrespectful to his teammates and this organization. Then we sit back and I think about it, and he’s a guy I have respect for, and I have to tell him, ‘Hey, we’re going to DFA you.’ And I wish him all the best.”
Martinez said he didn’t think Kelley was showing him up when he stared into the dugout for being put in the game. Rizzo said he did see it that way. Kelley had five days’ rest, so he was ready to throw.
After the contest, Kelley said he figured he would be in charge of the ninth because reliever Wander Suero’s pitch count rose to 29 in his one frame.
Pitchers Ryan Madson and Max Scherzer approached Kelley after the game for a conversation and patted him on the back.
Still, as Martinez deliberated late into the night, the group present felt designating Kelley for an assignment was the best option going forward. Martinez said he got two hours of sleep after, thinking about it. Kelley was not available Wednesday for comment.
“It stinks, it really does. I’ve got a lot of respect for Shawn, I really do. But that wasn’t right. We just won a game, 25-4,” Martinez said. “I think he was a bit shocked, yeah. He apologized for his actions, but, I mean, it happened. And there’s a lot of people upset about it.”
Now, in the past two days, two veteran relief options have left. The Nationals got younger and less expensive. But for a team adamant that a push toward the postseason is still in reach, it remains to be seen how Cordero and Suero will fair in the big leagues.
Martinez said Cordero, 26, was “lights out” with Triple-A Syracuse. He pitched to a 1.67 ERA in 43 innings and has not allowed a run in his past 15 games.
“He’s throwing 97, 99 [mph]. He’s got a really good slider,” Martinez said. “Biggest thing for us after seeing him in spring training is that he’s throwing strikes.”
Kelley’s move can also be seen as a statement for clubhouse unity. Kintzler had been outspoken about his usage out of the bullpen earlier this year. He departed. And now Kelley follows suit.
“I couldn’t see how he could face the rest of his teammates and the coaching staff and the manager again after such a selfish act,” Rizzo said. “It’s the front of the jersey I’m worried about, not the name on the back, and you’re in, or you’re in the way.”
• Andy Kostka can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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