Kelley encouraged after pair of bullpen sessions

PHOENIX - They may have added two key arms to their bullpen this week, but the Nationals also know they're going to need quality work from some members of their current relief corps before this season is over. And so the steps Shawn Kelley has been able to take over recent days in his recovery from an upper back strain can only be viewed as positive ones for this team.

Kelley, out since June 17 with a strained right trapezius muscle, threw off a bullpen mound today for the second time since he landed on the disabled list. The veteran reliever threw 30 pitches, said things went well and is scheduled to do it again Sunday before then facing live hitters in a simulated game after the team returns to D.C. next week.

Shawn-Kelley-throwing-white-sidebar.jpg"Everything was really sharp in the bullpen today," he said, adding: "I think after today, I feel like a human being again."

Kelley dealt with ongoing neck and upper back issues earlier this season, issues he believes contributed in part to his struggles on the mound (a 7.00 ERA and nine homers surrendered in only 18 innings of work). He said he now feels 100 percent healthy and is ready to take the next step.

"We're not trying to go super speed," he said. "Trying to take it step by step, make sure everything feels good. But I pretty much threw as max effort as you could throw in a bullpen. Minus some adrenaline you get in a game, I was letting it go, the slider and the fastball. It went well. I feel good. Now it's just getting that strength back in and being able to throw those pitches in the bullpen and go into a game and throw more pitches at another level of intensity."

Kelley's struggles, along with the struggles of nearly every other member of the Nationals bullpen, contributed to general manager Mike Rizzo's decision to trade for both Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson earlier this week. Those experienced late-inning relievers are essentially taking over roles that had been designated for Kelley as the beginning of the season.

Kelley, though, said he was ecstatic to learn about the trade and has enthusiastically welcomed both guys to the clubhouse.

"Even if everybody was having career years and pitching to where we should, like last year, I think you're still always trying to add, especially in that department," he said. "You see how the playoffs have gone the last few years; it's all about ... you're trying to get through the lineup a few times and then the bullpen comes in. You almost need four or five closers, really. I'm super happy we got two guys like that, that have experience at the back end to help us out. Maybe we'll get more, I don't know. It just makes us all the better and gives (manager) Dusty (Baker) options."

The injury update on Michael A. Taylor isn't as encouraging. Taylor, who has been traveling with the Nationals during this road trip, was hoping to begin baseball activities by now but has been unable to start that process with his strained right oblique muscle still sore at times.

"I don't think he's quite ready," Baker said. "We were hoping he'd be ready, but he still feels it. As long as he feels it, you've just got to wait til his body heals. They're doing everything they can. It's been two weeks, but I've seen guys take a lot longer than that. We were hoping that we caught it before it got too bad. But whenever they try to ramp up his workload, he feels it. And then you've got to back him off again."

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