D-backs limiting Kelly's spring workload in hopes of deep run

February 22nd, 2024

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- knows that every regular season game matters. It was a lesson the D-backs right-hander and his Arizona teammates were reminded of last year when they qualified for the postseason by a single game.

But Kelly and the D-backs are also aware that innings thrown in Spring Training count as innings all the same. After a long regular season and postseason run, the club wants to be cautious with the number of innings Kelly throws.

Keeping him strong and healthy for another run at the postseason is the top priority.

With that in mind, Kelly will get one fewer start than usual this spring and make his Cactus League debut on March 8, a week after games begin.

Kelly, 35, prides himself on being a workhorse, pushing hard to reach the 200-inning mark in 2022. Last season, he threw 177 2/3 innings despite missing time with a blood clot in his right leg. He then worked an additional 24 innings in the postseason.

The decision to take it a little easier workload-wise this spring is something that Kelly, the Arizona training staff and Torey Lovullo decided on together.

"I like the plan we came up with just because of how the season ended up, how far we went and how short the offseason was as a result," Kelly said. "I'm perfectly OK with a little bit of a slower ramp-up this year. In my mind, I want to be ready for those games in September and October. And obviously, those games are more important than a Spring Training game."

Kelly has five full big league seasons under his belt, so he has a good feel for what it takes to be ready for the start of a regular season. Last year also gave him a sense of how to approach the postseason.

As the innings piled up for him and it became clear the D-backs had a real shot at playing into October, Kelly began throwing less between starts to manage his workload.

Not only could he pitch effectively down the stretch when the D-backs needed him the most, but aside from one subpar start against the Phillies in the National League Championship Series, he was outstanding in the postseason.

That included seven innings of one-run ball against the Rangers in the lone World Series game the D-backs won.

Kelly adjusted his offseason routine slightly, taking around three weeks off from throwing after the World Series and then ramping back up by throwing three days a week until January, when he threw a little more.

After watching Kelly go about his business over the years, Lovullo has a deep trust and knows that Kelly will be ready to go when needed.

"Merrill has been a model of consistency," Lovullo said. "I can count on him out there, and I know he's giving us five-plus up to eight innings every single time. And if he doesn't, he takes it personal, and he's going to get to work to make sure that never happens again. That is his internal motivation and the discipline that he carries around every single day."