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Nats in discussions with Kelley, but no deal yet

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Nats in discussions with Kelley, but no deal yet

NASHVILLE — The Nationals have been in discussions with right-hander Shawn Kelley at the Winter Meetings, general manager Mike Rizzo said, but the club has not come to terms with the free-agent reliever yet.

“We have not completed a deal with Kelly, no,” Rizzo said during his Tuesday afternoon session with reporters at the Opryland Resort.

The Nationals have made no secret about their interest in overhauling their bullpen this winter and have talked with just about every available free agent, as well as clubs willing to listen to trade offers for relievers. Kelley wouldn’t necessarily fall at the top of their wish list, but he would fill a need as a middle reliever and possible setup man.

Kelley, who turns 32 in April, owns a 3.67 ERA in 289 career big-league appearances with the Mariners, Yankees and Padres but is coming off a breakthrough season in San Diego in which he posted a 2.45 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 53 games.

Kelley doesn’t have overpowering stuff — his fastball has consistently averaged about 92 mph over his career — but he does own one of baseball’s best strikeout rates (more than 11 per 9 innings each of the last three years) thanks to a hard-breaking slider, a pitch he threw 55 percent of the time this season.

In Washington, Kelley could take over the role held the last two seasons by Aaron Barrett (another right-handed middle man who relies on his slider but will miss the majority of 2016 after undergoing Tommy John surgery).

Though they have yet to land a big-name, back-of-the-bullpen arm this winter, the Nationals have begun to assemble some other pieces necessary to rebuild their relief corps. In addition to Kelley, they signed veteran left-hander Oliver Perez to a 2-year, $7 million deal last week, as well as former Nats lefty Sean Burnett to a minor-league contract.

The big questions, of course, remain at the back end of the pen. The Nationals have been fielding offers for both Jonathan Papelbon and Drew Storen, though to date they haven’t found a deal they’re willing to make. At the same time, they have been pursuing experienced late-inning options like Darren O’Day (who signed with the Orioles for 4 years and $31 million) and Aroldis Chapman (whose reported trade to the Dodgers has been held up amid allegations of domestic assault by the Cincinnati closer).

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Juan Soto crushes a homer in the first at-bat of his first-ever start

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@MLB

Juan Soto crushes a homer in the first at-bat of his first-ever start

Juan Soto, the highly-regarded 19-year-old Nationals' prospect, got his first major league start of his career tonight. 

How did it go, you ask? Surely it would take Soto - who was in Single-A less than two weeks ago - some time to adjust? 

What were you doing at 19??

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.

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Can slumping Nationals, Gio Gonzalez end losing streak Monday vs. Padres?

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USA Today Sports Images

Can slumping Nationals, Gio Gonzalez end losing streak Monday vs. Padres?

When the Washington Nationals visited San Diego on May 7-9, they won the first two games of a three-game series to move within 1 1/2 games of the National League West lead.

At the time, the Nationals were on a bit of a run and the Padres were reeling with a 13-24 record.

Two weeks after that series, the Padres and Nationals meet again in Washington, D.C (7:05 p.m. ET, Monday). And the fortunes of the two teams have changed a bit.

Since winning that series finale at Petco Park to avoid being swept by the Nationals, the Padres have gone 7-4 and are riding a three-game winning streak.

The Nationals have gone 4-4 and just lost a third straight game to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday in Washington to slip four games off the lead in their division.

The Nationals are the home team this time for a three-game series that opens Monday night with a matchup of left-handers -- Gio Gonzalez (4-2, 2.36 ERA) going for Washington with Robbie Erlin (1-2, 3.46) making a spot start for San Diego.

On paper, the pairing clearly favors the hosts.

Erlin, 27, has met the Nationals twice in his career. Both games were at Nationals Park. Erlin is 0-2 in the matchups with a 16.39 ERA.

In Erlin's two previous outings in the nation's capital, Erlin has given up 17 runs, 19 hits and six walks with six strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings. The Nationals have hit .413 against Erlin, who has a 2.68 WHIP against Washington.

This will be only the second start of the season for Erlin, who returned this year after having Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery midway through 2016.

Thirteen of Erlin's 14 appearances this season have been out of the bullpen. His one previous start was April 16 against the Dodgers. He gave up six runs (five earned), seven hits and two walks with four strikeouts in three innings.

Erlin is filling the vacancy created when rookie left-hander Joey Lucchesi went on the disabled list with a slightly strained glute. The Padres are hoping Lucchesi will miss only one start, although it looks like it could now be two or three.

Gonzalez is no stranger to the Padres. He started the May 9 game that the Nationals lost 2-1. Gonzalez allowed one run, five hits and three walks in six innings. Afterward, he said he struggled with his command.

Gonzalez was not involved in that decision. During his career, he has made seven starts against the Padres and has a 3-2 record with a 3.21 ERA, a 1.357 WHIP and a .253 opponents' batting average. Against the Padres, Gonzalez has given up 19 runs (15 earned), 41 hits and 16 walks with 41 strikeouts in 42 innings.

When the Nationals were in San Diego, first baseman-left fielder Matt Adams went 3-for-8 with a double, two homers, six RBIs and three runs scored -- although he got the third game off.

Since leaving San Diego, Adams has hit only .143. Washington's Bryce Harper is hitting .125 in the last eight games with a homer and three RBIs.

Another key player in the first Padres-Nationals series was Howie Kendrick, who was 5-for-12 with a double and two runs scored. But Kendrick has been lost with a ruptured Achilles tendon and on Saturday the Nationals promoted a 19-year-old prospect from Double-A.

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