Liz Barr: Shawn Kelley and Matt Grace have been quietly effective

Are the Nationals doing well? To put it simply, no. But if we keep focusing on the negatives, we will all drive ourselves crazy. So instead, we're going to focus on a few bright spots, and today we're going to look in an unorthodox place at a few guys who have had some under-the-radar good years: in the bullpen at Shawn Kelley and Matt Grace.

Kelley has gotten a little bit of a bad rep in town, especially coming off his poor 2017 season. Fans feared that 2018 would be more of the same, and it certainly didn't get off to a good start with all the time on the disabled list. However, he seems to have turned it around and is reverting back to the Kelley of 2015 and 2016, when he really excelled.

This season, his he has a 2.67 ERA through 30 1/3 innings in 33 games. He's only given up nine earned runs all year (though those are on six home runs, which is a little concerning) and he has a great strikeout-to-walk ratio, striking out 31 while walking only five. His WHIP is 0.86 and opposing batters are only hitting .189 overall. Additionally, he's been strong in high-risk situations. Hitters are only batting .048 with RISP off him, and he has a 10-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in those situations.

This is a strong contrast to his 2017 season, in which Kelly had a 7.27 ERA through 26 innings in 33 games, a WHIP of 1.54 and a batting average against of .266. Kelley has done a complete turnaround. He's already pitched more than he did all of last season, he appears healthy and he's getting it done. It's a shock, given what we're accustomed to from him, but it's a welcome change.

Grace was on the unfortunate end of a tough loss on Tuesday, but he's had a fantastic 2018 season overall. Grace has always been one of the most flexible relievers on the staff, with the ability to be a long man, make an emergency start or be trusted in critical innings, even getting a few saves in the past. Last season was his breakout year, making 40 appearances over 50 innings, though his 4.32 ERA was a little high.

This season, however, Grace has taken his pitching to new heights. In 37 2/3 innings over 31 games, he has a 2.87 ERA, a 1.12 WHIP and a .228 opponent average. He has 33 strikeouts (surpassing his 2017 total) and eight walks. He's on track to set a career high in appearances and blow the rest of his stats out of the water. He's been a consistent lefty reliever all year long and has been generally reliable out of the bullpen.

Neither Kelley nor Grace are going to get any of the publicity of any of the regular hitters, and they're always going to be overshadowed by fellow reliever Sean Doolittle. But with Doolittle out, they might be called upon more often with the bullpen. And with the issues the Nationals have had this season, their good performances should be recognized.

Liz Barr blogs about the Nationals for The Nats Blog. Follow her on Twitter: @RaiseTheBarr1. Her opinions on the Nationals will appear here as part of's initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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