Kelly healthy, but Braves' bats flex HR power

September 23rd, 2021

PHOENIX -- After testing positive for COVID-19 in mid-August, Merrill Kelly didn’t return to the mound for the D-backs until more than a month later. Having now made two starts since being activated, the right-hander is feeling healthy.

“Physically, I feel normal. I feel fine,” Kelly said.

However, Kelly doesn’t believe his mechanics feel as strong as they did early in the season, when he was among Arizona’s most consistent starters. He’s had struggles since rejoining the rotation, which included his outing in Wednesday night’s 9-2 loss to Atlanta at Chase Field.

Kelly went six innings, but he allowed six runs on seven hits and two walks with seven strikeouts. In his return from the COVID-19 injured list last time out, he allowed four runs on 10 hits and two walks with one strikeout in 4 2/3 innings in a road loss to the Dodgers.

“The way I felt before I went down is definitely not the same that I feel now, I think that’s part of the issue,” Kelly said. “Just kind of trying to get that timing back, it’s just been a little harder to replicate than I thought it was going to be. And obviously, against the couple teams that I’ve faced, it’s going to be a tough go if you’re trying to feel your way through the game.”

Much like the previous two nights, D-backs pitchers were hurt by the long ball Wednesday. The Braves, who have won the first three contests of this four-game set, hit three homers in the victory and have now swatted eight since arriving in the desert at the start of the week.

The first homer that Kelly gave up ended up not actually being a homer. Adam Duvall hit a ball that cleared the left-center-field wall in the 1st, but he was ruled out for passing Austin Riley on the basepaths, as he thought D-backs center fielder Jake McCarthy had caught the ball. Because of the miscue, it was ruled a two-run single during the Braves’ three-run opening frame.

“Obviously, I’m happy that there was confusion on their side as well, and that [Duvall] passed [Riley] and I got an out out of it, rather than a three-run homer. But obviously, not happy with that pitch,” Kelly said. “But yeah, at first I thought he made a ridiculous catch, it looked like a really close play.”

Kelly later gave up a solo homer to Riley in the third and a two-run homer to Ozzie Albies in the fifth. But from the third through the sixth, Kelly retired 12 of the 15 batters he faced, with the exceptions being the pair of homers and a two-out double by Freddie Freeman in the fifth.

“He had some good and bad moments,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. “I felt like he had trouble finding a rhythm, and once he did in a couple of those innings, I thought he was landing his pitches and did a really nice job of attacking the zone. I think he was just one or two balls off the plate and not able to execute at the high level that we normally see.”

That was what Arizona saw from Kelly from June 21-Aug. 5, when he had a 2.44 ERA over a span of nine starts. He was also a reliable presence for the first 4 1/2 months of the season, having made 24 starts by Aug. 11.

With the 2021 season winding down, Kelly will look to figure things out and finish strong to build some positive momentum for ‘22.

“It’s not what I want it to be, but we’ll continue to pound the pavement and try to iron things out for my last two [starts],” Kelly said.