Updated at 4:30 p.m.
The funny thing about new Nationals reliever Shawn Kelley's claim to fame in the baseball world is that it, well, doesn't have a whole lot to do with how he's performed when called upon from the bullpen.
In August 2014 with the New York Yankees, Kelley sought to snap his team's two-game skid, so he started wearing a rubber horse head mask during pregame warmups. Hilarious, yes, but the mask's mojo was apparently working. The Yankees won the first night he wore it, and so he continued to put it on before each game as New York won five straight.
About 16 months later, when Kelley got his chance to meet Nats fans for the first time last weekend at WinterFest, it's no surprise what questions those inside the Washington Convention Center peppered him with.
"Everyone keeps asking me about this horse head. I don't even know what they're talking about," he said with a wry smile. "I've heard that a lot."
Of course, the Nats brought Kelley to D.C. for more than just his mask. The 31-year-old righty signed a three-year deal worth a reported $15 million to help fix a bullpen that was in desperate need of a rebuild.
"It is a good fit," he said. "I wanted to be somewhere that was gonna compete, not just trying to get into the playoffs, not just hoping. I wanted to go somewhere where [we're] talking about possibly contending for a World Series...I want to go somewhere for a few years where I got a chance to maybe get a ring. That's really all I have left to do that I really want to do."
The Nats hope they're getting Kelley right as he hits an upswing in his career. He had perhaps his best season in 2015 with the San Diego Padres, posting a 2.45 ERA with 63 strikeouts to just 13 walks in 51 1/3 innings of work.
"I think every year I've gotten a little bit better," Kelley said. "Regardless of what some of the traditional stats may say, I've gotten better. I've learned more about myself and what I wanna do and what it takes to get some of these hitters out and knowing the league more and more."
Kelley, like the other newly-signed Nats relievers, said he has not been given any indication what his role might be in 2016. In his seven-year career, he's pitched as a middle reliever, setup man and has even notched four saves as a closer. But it stands to reason that the contract he received indicates that he could be given a shot to pitch in the late innings.
For now, all the Nats know is that they've acquired an experienced and versatile reliever who isn't afraid to loosen up the mood in the clubhouse.
"The horse head is not retired," Kelley said. "That'll be something you just keep in the back of your mind and see what happens."