PHOENIX -- The Giants can be a relentless offensive team, grinding out long at-bats, wearing down starting pitchers and getting to a team's bullpen early.
D-backs right-hander Merrill Kelly foiled that strategy Thursday afternoon as he threw plenty of strikes early in counts, forcing the Giants hitters to swing and allowing him to throw eight shutout innings.
With Kelly sitting at 102 pitches and with a four-run lead, D-backs manager Torey Lovullo decided to turn things over to the bullpen.
It was a perfectly defensible move. It was also one that backfired as the Giants scored four in the ninth to tie the game and got one in the 10th to win, 5-4.
"Eight scoreless, gets through the order for that fourth time and set us up for a really good opportunity to win this baseball game," Lovullo said. "And he did his job in an unbelievable way by attacking the zone using a great mixture of pitches. He was in total control of this game. From the first pitch he threw until the last."
Kelly's 2020 season was cut short due to right shoulder thoracic outlet surgery, which included the removal of one of his ribs.
Given that as well as the fact that his season high for pitches was 99, Lovullo did not want to push things and send him back out for the ninth.
"For me, it just wasn't worth it," Lovullo said. "You know, we've got to remember what he's walked through over the past 12 months, right? He had surgery last year. He's been throwing the ball really, really well but at 102 pitches, I felt like he did his job, and it was time to turn it over to the bullpen."
Efficiency has been a staple in Kelly's game. Over his last three starts he has recorded 39 of his 61 outs on three or few pitches with 12 coming on just one pitch.
Kelly hates giving up walks and feels he is at his best when he is on the attack. Because he's usually around the strike zone teams have tried to take advantage of that, but so far have been unsuccessful.
"I think that's kind of a trend I'm starting to pick up," Kelly said of teams swinging early. "I think it might just be in their [scouting] report. For me, the fact that I throw strikes, and I'm around the zone, I think teams you know, try to kind of capitalize on that and try to be aggressive with it. But as long as I'm executing, I don't mind it because I get quick outs."
The Giants were able to get just three hits against Kelly and they came on balls that had exit velocities of 79, 98 and 97 mph.
By contrast the first three batters reliever Taylor Clarke faced in the ninth got hits with exit velocities of 103, 108 and 100 mph.
Kelly said he felt like he had enough in the tank to have gone out for the ninth.
"I think so," he said. "It was kind of a weird feeling today I just kind of had. Maybe just because it was a day game a little early, but I had kind of an overwhelming calm about the game today. I definitely think I could have gone back out. I mean, the last pitch of the eighth inning was a 93 mph cutter that was executed. So I definitely think I could have gotten three more outs, for sure."
Kris Bryant, who led off the ninth with a double against Clarke and drove home what proved to be the game-winner in the 10th off Tyler Gilbert, thought Kelly was going to finish off the game.
“We had no business winning that game, really,” Bryant said. “Their starter really shut us down for eight, what looked like might have been nine, innings. I originally thought he was going to go back out. I was out there in center field kind of game planning and then they brought Clarke in, who just came off the [injured list], so I figured he was going to maybe work on some of his pitches and just try to throw strikes. I don't know if I've ever faced him, so I was really just trying to see him. See his pitches and just try to get on base. That's what you've got to do when you're down four in the ninth. Leading off an inning, you try to get on base any way you can, and that was just the start of it all.”