WASHINGTON -- With questions emerging about the culture of their clubhouse, the Nationals made a strong and surprising statement Wednesday morning, when they designated reliever Shawn Kelley for assignment.
The move comes after Kelley slammed his glove to the ground and glared toward the dugout after giving up a home run in the ninth inning of Tuesday's 25-4 blowout win against the Mets, a move manager Dave Martinez called "disrespectful to the organization." General manager Mike Rizzo offered a forceful rebuke of Kelley's actions, calling it a "selfish act," which he interpreted as showing up Martinez, a first-year manager.
"I thought the act that he portrayed on the field last night was disrespectful to the name on the front of the jersey, the organization, specifically Davey Martinez," Rizzo said prior to Wednesday's game against the Mets. "You're either in or you're in the way. And I thought he was in the way."
The Kelley move comes as a surprise considering he had been a key part of the Nats' bullpen during the past three seasons. After struggling early, Kelley had been pitching well lately, with a 3.34 ERA, 32 strikeouts and five walks in 32 1/3 innings, and his name surfaced among trade rumors before Tuesday's non-waiver Trade Deadline. Still, one day after the team decided to keep him at the Deadline, Washington designated him for assignment.
In a phone interview with MLB.com on Wednesday afternoon, Kelley maintained that he did not have any issue pitching in Tuesday's game -- pointing to the fact that he has thrown in plenty of blowouts before this season -- and that he did not intend any disrespect toward Martinez by looking toward the dugout.
Kelley insisted his actions were born out of frustration with a disagreement with second-base umpire Tripp Gibson III, who warned him of a potential balk, and home-plate umpire Adrian Johnson, who warned him of a quick pitch, and the fact that Kelley surrendered a homer. Even though the Nats were up by a wide margin, Kelley says he needs to carry the same intensity on the mound in a blowout as he would in a 1-1 game.
"I was a little upset that no one came out to talk to the umps to defend me," Kelley said. "Because at the end of the day, I can't get thrown out right there because now somebody else has got to come in and pitch in a 25-1 game. So I feel like I'm kind of getting fed to the wolves out there in that game and kind of not getting any support from the dugout and that was the glare to the dugout.
"I hate the narrative being selfish or showing up the manager because I've spent 10 years in this league and the only thing I've really ever cared about when I leave this game, is people knowing that I cared and I was humble, selfless and I was a good person and good to everybody and treated everybody fairly. That's kind of what I'm about and who I am as a person. So it hurts a little bit today reading some of the taglines and some of the comments that are out there."
When a player's contract is designated for assignment -- often abbreviated "DFA" -- that player is immediately removed from his club's 40-man roster, and 25-man roster if he was on that as well. Within seven days of the transaction (it was previously 10 days), the player must either be traded, released or placed on irrevocable outright waivers.
The Nats promoted right-hander Jimmy Cordero -- who owns a 1.67 ERA in 38 games at Triple-A -- to fill the vacant spot on the roster.
"It stinks, it really does," Martinez said. "I've got a lot of respect for Shawn, I do. But that wasn't right. We just won a game, 25-4."
"If the situation occurs and I blow the game in a tight game and slam my glove, it's not a big deal," Kelley said. "We're athletes, we slam stuff all the time. Hitters slam stuff every inning. ... It's a little funny to me for people to think that slamming a glove is -- I won't be the last one to do it. I don't know if that's really warranting being released."
Rizzo insisted Wednesday's move was not meant as a message to the rest of the Nationals clubhouse; however, it was hard not to see it that way.
Earlier this week, an article by Yahoo Sports quoted an anonymous source calling the Nationals clubhouse a "mess." Then, the Nationals made the surprise move to trade right-hander Brandon Kintzler to the Cubs before Tuesday's Trade Deadline. While the team publicly explained the move as dealing from a position of depth and that clearing his roster spot in the relief corps would help create flexibility in the bullpen, Kintzler has also been, at times, critical and outspoken of Martinez's bullpen management, especially after he spent time on the disabled list earlier this season while on pace for a career high in appearances.
During a radio interview on 106.7 The Fan on Wednesday morning, Kintzler denied any knowledge of the Yahoo report, as he insisted he had never spoken to its author, Jeff Passan, in his life.
With the Nationals underachieving their grand expectations from the start of the season, in third place and with a .500 record entering Wednesday, questions have begun to swirl about Martinez and his hold on the veteran roster he inherited. The Nats have spent the past two days swatting down such questions or concerns about the culture of their clubhouse, which Adam Eaton called "absolutely false" and "a load of crap" and Martinez chalked up to frustration by competitive players with a desire to win.
Kelley's act of frustration was too far, however, because it could be seen as a slight toward their first-year manager, something Rizzo believed Kelley could not come back from.
"The culture here has been so good for so long," Rizzo said. "We've had so much success over the last seven years that we're not going to let anybody interfere with that success and the momentum that we hope to have going down the stretch. We're not going to let any one person derail what we're looking to do."