Citing the “disrespect” they felt he displayed toward his manager and the organization as a whole when he slammed his glove to the ground in frustration in the ninth inning of Tuesday night’s 25-4 win over the Mets, the Nationals designated reliever Shawn Kelley for assignment this morning, perhaps making a broader statement in the process to a clubhouse of players that has been through a tumultuous season to date.
“You’re either in or you’re in the way,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “And I thought he was in the way. It’s something that you don’t come back from.”
Kelley was brought in to pitch the top of the ninth Tuesday night, with the Nationals leading by 24 runs. It’s the kind of assignment a veteran reliever might not appreciate, but it came after rookie Wander Suero (called up earlier in the day to replace traded veteran Brandon Kintzler in large part because of his ability to throw multiple innings) threw 29 pitches in the top of the eighth and was not brought back to the mound.
Kelley promptly surrendered a leadoff double, a single, a run-scoring groundout and then a two-run homer to Austin Jackson, at which point the right-hander slammed his glove to the ground in frustration and looked toward the home dugout. The 34-year-old insisted after the game his frustration was directed at the umpiring crew (which was giving him conflicting instructions to pitch either faster or slower) and the surrender of the home run, not toward his manager.
“In retrospect, I should not have thrown my glove,” he said. “You should never throw your glove. We should act like adults. We’re role models for kids, and I have kids and I don’t want people seeing us throw gloves in any situation. For me, I was frustrated. Strictly had to do with what was happening in that game.”
Rizzo, however, clearly took Kelley’s display as directed toward manager Davey Martinez.
“Yeah, I did,” the GM said. “It may not have been, but that’s the way I looked at it. After what we’d gone through at the trade deadline, and what happened before the game yesterday and getting ready for the post-trade deadline season, I felt that it was truly a day that we should be happy and celebrating. We had a big win against a division rival, and we felt good about ourselves. And then this selfish act is really not what we’re here for.”
Signed to a three-year, $15 million contract prior to the 2016 season, Kelley was an integral part of the Nationals bullpen in his first season in town, then struggled with injuries and an inability to keep the ball in the park in 2017. Some of those same issues resurfaced early this season, but he had rebounded nicely over the summer and entered Tuesday’s game with a 2.59 ERA and 0.86 WHIP in 34 appearances (albeit few of them in high-leverage situations).
Unless another club claims him off waivers or makes a trade for him, the Nationals will be on the hook for the approximately $1.8 million he’s still owed this season.
Martinez, for his part, didn’t accuse Kelley of disrespecting him personally in the moment but nonetheless supported the decision to remove him from the roster.
“It stinks,” the rookie manager said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for Shawn. But that wasn’t right. We just won a game 25-4.”