LOS ANGELES -- Merrill Kelly's welcome back to the mound was soured by any contact the Dodgers made against him throughout Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium.
Kelly made his first start since Aug. 11, but the outing didn’t have the results Arizona was hoping to get in the series finale. Once the Dodgers scored four runs off Kelly through 4 2/3 innings, the D-backs had their backs against the wall as their 16th series sweep crept up on them.
The D-backs lost, 5-3, to mark their 14th loss of the year to the reigning World Series champions. Arizona has been outscored 115-44 in 16 matchups against Los Angeles in the '21 slate.
“I thought Merrill did a great job, going out there and competing and getting back on the dirt, getting back on the rubber and giving us a chance to win the baseball game,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. “It's just good to see him out on the field again, doing what he does best. I thought there were maybe a couple of mistakes, and I know those misfires he's going to evaluate and get better for the next time.”
Things haven’t gone the D-backs’ way this season, as they trend toward a franchise-record-tying 111 losses, but when Kelly has been on the mound, he’s been one of their bright spots. In his 10 previous starts entering Wednesday, the right-hander went 5-2 with a 2.95 ERA in 64 innings pitched.
By the second inning, it was evident that Kelly didn’t have the same control that has made him successful over the summer. His strikeout against Max Muncy in the first inning was the only punchout he recorded throughout the night. Kelly surrendered four runs on 10 hits, the second highest he’s allowed in a start this season, while issuing two walks.
“From my point of view, it was just very average,” Kelly said. “That one pitch to Muncy, it was just right down the middle and he took advantage of it. Other than that, it wasn't too bad for the first time back.”
Kelly surpassed the pitch count that the team set for him. He worked a 23 percent called-strike-plus-whiff rate on his 82-pitch night as velocity dipped slightly across his five-pitch arsenal. The Dodgers got the best of him in the strike zone, just like they have in the past, as Kelly has lost four of his five starts against Los Angeles.
"That's a really good team over there,” Kelly said. “Can't afford to make mistakes, can't afford to get behind those guys because one through eight, they're pretty relentless. Can't afford to give them extra breaks, you can't afford to give them an inch because they'll take a mile every time."
Henry Ramos started the scoring for the D-backs with a two-run single in the fourth that temporarily gave Arizona a 2-1 lead. The Dodgers retook the lead in the next half-inning, though Christian Walker tried to make things interesting with a solo shot in the sixth.
Despite the offense clamoring for runs and Ramos crashing into the left-field wall in the fourth to prevent a run from scoring, Lovullo acknowledged Arizona’s pitching staff for keeping the game close enough for the D-backs to make an attempt at a comeback.
"I also want to say what a good job our pitchers did today,” Lovullo said. “When you look at it, they've got 13 or 14 hits and a couple scratch baserunners, a couple of scratch runs. The pitching staff did a good job of keeping us in this ballgame when our offense didn't quite hit their stride."
Their placement in the standings is no longer on their radar. The D-backs are focused on what their players can do for themselves in the last handful of games remaining in the season. Lovullo described the final stretch of '21 as a picture with each player painting their own piece as the evaluations for next season continue.
"I expect us to [continue] practicing full speed, playing full speed and playing fearless baseball,” Lovullo said. “[It's] one of my big asks. It's something they know is going to help us compete at the right times, the right way."