Kelly struggles in SF; 200 innings still in sight

D-backs right-hander has rare off night vs. Giants, allows 8 runs over 4 2/3 frames

October 1st, 2022

SAN FRANCISCO -- “Payback” might be too strong a word for what the D-backs sought at Oracle Park on Friday night. Perhaps they merely wanted the satisfaction of winning their 10th game against the Giants to capture the season series after San Francisco won 17 of 19 meetings between the clubs last year.

Manager Torey Lovullo conceded the point, saying, “The fact we played better baseball against the Giants is very pleasing,” because it means the team is on the right path.

The D-backs will need to wait at least until Saturday afternoon to secure that 10th win, in part because the satisfaction thing works both ways. The Giants had their own score to settle Friday night and topped Arizona, 10-4.

San Francisco wanted to prove -- and did prove -- it could solve right-hander Merrill Kelly, who had owned the Giants in his first five starts against them this season (3-0 with a 1.53 ERA and 0.74 WHIP).

On a cool evening along San Francisco Bay, the Giants pinned eight runs on Kelly, matching his career high. They needed only 14 batters to score seven runs, more than doubling the six they scored against Kelly in those first five outings. Evan Longoria did most of the damage, hitting homers in the first and second innings that plated five total runs.

In a typical game, Kelly might have been done after two innings. However, Lovullo stayed with him into the fifth, when he reached 102 pitches on a swinging third strike to Austin Slater for the second out of the inning.

Those extra outs sustained Kelly’s chances of becoming the first D-backs pitcher since 2018 to reach 200 innings, a milestone he's acknowledged he wants to reach. But Lovullo said that was not his reasoning. Once the Giants took a 7-1 lead in the second, Lovullo and pitching coach Brent Strom set a goal of five innings and 100 pitches for Kelly to spare the bullpen.

Kelly fell one out short and fought to stay in for the final out in the fifth. Lovullo said no.

“We want him to accomplish a lot of goals this year, and one of them certainly is a personal goal that he wants to get,” Lovullo said. “We want to help him do that, but we’re going to be smart about it. I’m not going to put someone in harm’s way.”

Kelly was disconsolate after the loss and declined to talk. He sat staring into his locker for at least a half-hour as teammates came by to pat him on the back.

The 33-year-old will have to be much sharper in his final start (which is tentatively set to take place in Milwaukee on Wednesday), as he'll need to pitch 6 2/3 innings to reach 200 for the season.

Kelly took the mound hoping to accomplish the almost-unheard-of feat of dominating the same opponent six times in a season. Lovullo marveled at the first five starts.

“Each time, you’re wondering if [the Giants] are going to make some adjustments, but it just seems like Merrill continues to counterpunch,” Lovullo said. “He makes pitches and get outs.”

Kelly’s punches did not connect in this game. He walked his first hitter, Joc Pederson. A Wilmer Flores single and Mike Yastrzemski double with one out tied the game at 1, before Kelly threw Longoria a 1-2 fastball that was supposed to start outside and nip the corner. Instead, it leaked over the plate, and Longoria propelled it into the left-field bleachers for a three-run homer and a 4-1 Giants lead.

The second inning began with Pederson hitting a Little League home run -- a triple that caromed off the bricks in right-center field, with Pederson then scoring on a Josh Rojas throwing error.

A walk to Yastrzemski preceded Longoria’s second homer in as many innings, a drive into the home bullpen in center that gave San Francisco a 7-1 lead.

The D-backs pecked away at Giants starter Alex Cobb, closing the deficit to 8-4 by the fifth inning, before three San Francisco relievers shut them down.

“We were doing a pretty good job putting some good at-bats and good innings together against Cobb,” Rojas said. “Once they brought in the bullpen, they shut us down and killed the momentum.”