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Kelly steps up for D-backs, sets tone in 3-hitter

Rookie increases curveball use to baffle Phillies over 7 2/3 innings
@SteveGilbertMLB
June 12, 2019

PHILADELPHIA -- On a day when the D-backs placed starting pitcher Jon Duplantier on the injured list, Merrill Kelly showed once again why he might be ready to be counted on more heavily as the season progresses. Kelly tossed 7 2/3 innings as the D-backs beat the Phillies, 2-0, on

PHILADELPHIA -- On a day when the D-backs placed starting pitcher Jon Duplantier on the injured list, Merrill Kelly showed once again why he might be ready to be counted on more heavily as the season progresses.

Kelly tossed 7 2/3 innings as the D-backs beat the Phillies, 2-0, on Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park to capture the three-game series and raise their record to 5-1 on this 10-game road trip.

Box score

“He just did a really good job staying out of the middle of the plate,” Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto said. “He was able to throw the cutter in on left-handers and then away to righties, he kept it strike-to-ball all night. He did a good job of locating. He was able to bury his curveball when needed. Kept us off balance and kept us off the bases.”

Signed as a free agent during the offseason after spending four years pitching in Korea, Kelly (7-6) opened the year as the team’s No. 5 starter, but over his past three starts he's pitched more like an ace than the rookie that he technically is. In those games, Kelly has allowed two runs over 22 1/3 innings.

“He’s very poised,” D-backs catcher Carson Kelly said. “You see a lot of guys come up for the first time, and he’s out there executing his pitches and doesn’t seem fazed in any aspect.”

That’s not entirely true, though, as Merrill Kelly acknowledged maybe trying a little too hard early this season.

“In the beginning, I think I was putting too much emphasis on the game, rather than going out there and treating it like a baseball game,” Kelly said. “The more we get into the season, the more I go about my routine and be around these guys in the clubhouse, it’s more of just a baseball game than a Major League Baseball game.

"Just being accustomed to the traveling and the league and to the guys and the hitters, it’s becoming more normal.”

The D-backs gave Kelly all the runs he would need in the fifth when they opened the inning with three straight singles, the last of which was an RBI bloop to right by Christian Walker.

Nick Ahmed followed Walker with a sacrifice fly off Zach Eflin (6-6).

Ahmed also contributed on defense, making a diving stop in shallow left field and firing to first base to nail Scott Kingery and end the seventh inning.

Kelly’s performances of late have been a boost to the rotation, which has had its share of setbacks.

Two weeks ago, Luke Weaver was lost for at least a couple of months due to injury. Duplantier, who went three innings Tuesday night, was placed on the injured list Wednesday with right shoulder inflammation, leaving the team without a starter for Sunday.

“He’s been great,” Ahmed said of Kelly. “Especially after a short outing and injury yesterday, to step in and throw 7 2/3 like he did today, phenomenal. He’s been really good. He had a couple of tough outings, which he didn’t like, but he’s given us length, he’s doing a great job attacking guys, and I think he’s going to keep going because he looks really good.”

The cut fastball had been a big pitch for Kelly in his past couple of starts, and Wednesday he changed things up a bit by using his curveball more, throwing it for a strike and to get swings-and-misses just below the zone.

“He was landing the curveball for a strike, keeping the changeup down and attacking with the fastball,” Ahmed said. “He just did a great job.”

Steve Gilbert has covered the D-backs for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB.