Kel­ley gets some help, and Nats win again

NA­TION­ALS 2, DI­A­MOND­BACKS 1 Gen­er­ous called strike helps re­liever in eighth

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY CHELSEA JANES

phoenix — Shawn Kel­ley’s pitch was low, at least ac­cord­ing to the com­put­ers. Im­por­tantly, com­put­ers do not have the fi­nal say. In­stead of ball four, home plate um­pire Doug Ed­dings called it strike three, a de­ci­sion that in­spired Steven Souza Jr. to toss his bat to­ward third base in dis­gust. Ed­dings’s de­ci­sion also meant Kel­ley had suc­ceeded in hold­ing a lead through the high­est-lever­age sit­u­a­tion he has faced all sea­son — the eighth in­ning of a one-run game.

The Washington Na­tion­als went on to hold that lead for an in­ning more, com­plet­ing a 2-1 win against the Arizona Di­a­mond­backs for their 12th vic­tory in 14 games Satur­day. The Di­a­mond­backs (24-15) had not lost a series yet this sea­son, but they have now. The Na­tion­als (23-18) have taken the first three of this four-game series.

For Souza, the pitch ended more than his at-bat — Ed­dings promptly ejected him for his re­ac­tion. For Kel­ley, that pitch could be­come the start of a re­vival. He threw it 94 mph. Low or not, strike or ball, he had not thrown a ball that hard in a sit­u­a­tion that im­por­tant in quite some time.

“Last year, I was reach­ing back and there was nothing there,” Kel­ley said. “So to reach back and get a lit­tle zip on it — and it doesn’t al­ways have to be the radar gun. Usu­ally I can tell.”

Stephen Stras­burg threw 62/3 strong in­nings in which he al­lowed one run on five hits and struck out nine. He left seven outs to a tired bullpen lack­ing the ser­vices of Bran­don Kint­zler and Sean Doolit­tle, both of whom had thrown two days in a row. Man­ager Dave Martinez couldn’t ask them to push to three again. He has al­ready had to push them to the brink.

To sur­vive un­til Oc­to­ber, the Na­tion­als need some­one be­sides Kint­zler, Doolit­tle and Ryan Mad­son to get cru­cial late-in­ning outs. With a one-run lead in the eighth and a pair of for­mi­da­ble right- Na­tion­als at Di­a­mond­backs Today, 8 p.m., ESPN

handed hit­ters due for Arizona, Martinez called on Kel­ley to prove he can still han­dle the sit­u­a­tions in which he thrived for this team two years ago. El­bow pain and numb­ness trun­cated Kel­ley’s 2017 sea­son, and it al­ready has pushed him to the dis­abled list once this year, too.

So with one down in the in­ning, Kel­ley walked Paul Gold­schmidt. He got A.J. Pol­lock to fly out. Im­por­tantly, he did so while get­ting both hit­ters to take late swings on his fast­ball — some­thing that told Kel­ley and his team­mates as much as any radar gun.

“Did I think he was going to throw 93? No,” Martinez said. “But he was fired up. I tell these guys all the time, I trust them. In big mo­ments, they have to come in and get those guys out.”

Then, with Trevor Gott warm­ing be­hind him, Kel­ley fell into a 3-2 count against Souza, the for­mer Na­tion­als prospect. Kel­ley gave up a home run almost ev­ery two in­nings last sea­son, mostly on hang­ing slid­ers, and his trade­mark slider isn’t quite back where he wants it yet af­ter his time on the dis­abled list. So he chose a fast­ball, know­ing he would rather walk Souza by miss­ing low than leave the pitch over the plate. Ed­dings called it strike three.

“When I throw it, I don’t re­ally pay much at­ten­tion to what hap­pens af­ter. I know [it’s good] if it comes out of my hand how I want it to — and it did,” Kel­ley said. “. . . I’m sure for ev­ery one like that I got, I had a good pitch I wanted and didn’t get. I’m not going to com­plain.”

The game would not have come down to that pitch if the Na­tion­als had been able to score more than the two runs they did — one on Bryce Harper’s dou­ble in the third, the other on an An­thony Ren­don fielder’s choice in the fourth — and hadn’t stranded 11 base run­ners in the first eight in­nings in any num­ber of ag­o­niz­ing ways.

Stras­burg scared his man­ager in the first in­ning, with di­min­ished ve­loc­ity and spotty com­mand. With Stras­burg, any flinch or fid­get can fore­tell trou­ble, but the right-han­der said later he was just wrestling with com­mand. He won the match and kept the Na­tion­als in the game un­til the sev­enth, when Sammy So­lis got two outs and handed the ball to Kel­ley.

Both So­lis and Kel­ley made qual­ity pitches, which the Na­tion­als des­per­ately need them to do more of­ten. Mad­son, who is known to pre­fer the eighth in­ning to the ninth, threw a score­less fi­nal frame to earn the save.

“I think [shuf­fling roles] is a good thing for ev­ery­body,” said Mad­son, who ex­plained that when he changed teams last year and found him­self in more im­por­tant sit­u­a­tions, his stuff im­proved in cor­re­la­tion.

“. . . That’s also an added bonus for guys when they get out of their com­fort zone and you get a lit­tle more of ev­ery­thing in­side of you emo­tion­ally. Phys­i­cally, it comes out of you a lit­tle bet­ter.”

If big spots lead to big stuff from Kel­ley, the Na­tion­als might have an­other weapon in a right-han­der who once han­dled setup du­ties for them but had all but dis­ap­peared. Cer­tainly his el­bow could flare up at any mo­ment. But for the first time in 2018, it was his ve­loc­ity that flared up in a big mo­ment, just in time to save the day.


Arizona right fielder Steven Souza Jr. ar­gues with um­pire Doug Ed­dings af­ter be­ing ejected in the eighth in­ning against the Na­tion­als.

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