Masterful Kelly comes just short of complete game in win

Late homers from Varsho and Peralta help D-backs take opener

May 7th, 2022

PHOENIX -- Through eight innings on Friday night at Chase Field, Merrill Kelly had dominated the Rockies. The D-backs right-hander allowed a first-inning run and shut the door from that point on and had thrown just 86 pitches.

As the Arizona offense came alive in the bottom of the eighth, scoring three times to break the tie and take a 4-1 lead, D-backs manager Torey Lovullo had a conversation in the dugout with Kelly about going out for the ninth inning.

"I told him that he was on a shorter leash than he could imagine," Lovullo said.

Kelly had yet to throw a complete game in his three-plus years in the Major Leagues, and it was something he wanted and Lovullo wanted for him.

After striking out the first two batters in the ninth, it looked like Kelly was going to get it, and the crowd was ready for it, chanting, "Kell-Lee, Kell-Lee."

Elias Díaz then blooped a single to right and Lovullo popped out of the dugout and headed to the mound, drawing boos from the crowd. The manager did not signal to the bullpen, though, and instead did something he rarely does -- he gave Kelly the chance to talk him out of making a change.

"In a pretty aggressive manner he said, 'This is my game and I got this guy,'" Lovullo recalled. "There were a couple of [expletives] in there, and I like that. You know, sometimes you have to allow the player to perform. He's committed to this team, he's done so many great things, he's been dealing all year long. I felt like it was something I needed to hear."

The next batter, Brendan Rodgers also singled to right and Lovullo took out Kelly in favor of closer Mark Melancon, who was reinstated off the IL ahead of first pitch. Melancon promptly loaded the bases before securing the 4-1 win.

While Kelly didn't get his complete game, Lovullo still felt like the decision to leave Kelly in was the correct one because of the message it sent throughout the clubhouse.

"I think this goes a long way with all the other starting pitchers," Lovullo explained. "They see that happen and they know when they're throwing the ball good that they're gonna get some opportunities. I think this will give Merrill a little push, too, to know that his manager believed in him. When I go out there, and he's like pounding the table for one more batter, that's what I want to see. I want to see that emotion. I want to see what it looks like. I want to see that look in his eyes. It's telling me a story."

Kelly has said before that if he feels gassed, he will always be honest with his manager because his main focus is the team winning.

So when he told Lovullo that he felt like he could get Rodgers, he had some credibility built up.

"Obviously, I appreciate it," said Kelly of Lovullo leaving him in. "You know, I would hope the relationship that we've built over the past three, four years, led to that moment and the fact that he trusted me."

In the end, that faith and the message that was sent to the rest of the pitchers meant more than a complete game.