Merrill Kelly is healthy, and that's obviously a good thing for the right-hander. But it's also big for the D-backs' starting rotation.
Kelly and Zac Gallen were Arizona's best starting pitchers last year, but Kelly's season came to a halt prematurely after his Aug. 19 start due to injury.
Kelly underwent thoracic outlet surgery, which included the removal of one of his ribs, in September last year. In his five starts, he had a 2.59 ERA.
"I specifically honed in on him today and watched his bullpen," D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. "He's spinning breaking balls, driving fastballs to both sides of the plate and throwing some quality changeups."
Kelly was originally signed by the D-backs prior to the 2019 season after pitching four seasons in Korea. Even with his injury, the team decided to pick up his $4.25 million option for 2021.
After a winter of rehab work, Kelly said he is ready for a full workload this spring.
"My mentality is that I’m just a normal player again," he said. "I’m just approaching Spring Training as usual and just trying to prepare for the season rather than thinking about what happened or how I feel. I feel ready to go. I’m just looking forward to getting going."
Bukauskas in bullpen for now
Right-hander J.B. Bukauskas, who was acquired as part of the deal that sent Zack Greinke to the Astros at the 2019 Trade Deadline, will be looked at as a reliever this spring.
The 24-year-old, who is ranked by MLB Pipeline as the No. 10 prospect in Arizona's system, has been a starter throughout most of his professional career.
"Bukauskas is probably the one guy that we’re making a little adjustment to for this Spring Training where we’re going to probably ask him to compete in shorter stints for right now," D-backs general manager Mike Hazen said. "That’s not taking away that he could be a starter in the future or even during the season as we build it back out. We’re interested in seeing what he can do in short turns. He's got electric stuff."
The D-backs have open spots in their bullpen after several departures from last season, including Archie Bradley, Andrew Chafin, Junior Guerra and Hector Rondón.
"It’s hard for me to put percentage on that," Hazen said when asked about the chances of adding someone. "I would say likely, to some degree. I don’t know what form that’s going to take, but we are still actively looking to improve any chance we can out in the marketplace."
Grateful for the support
Hazen recently revealed this week that his wife, Nicole, has been battling brain cancer for almost a year now, which has led to an outpouring of well wishes from those within the D-backs organization and baseball, but also fans throughout Arizona.
"I don’t know how to adequately express the level of appreciation, because I feel like I’ll undersell it no matter what I try to say," Hazen said. "Just from our family’s perspective, we couldn't be in a more supportive situation. I know everybody is reaching out and pulling for her. It’s a tough fight and we are confident in the experts and the medicine and the care that she is receiving."