Kelly (1.71 ERA) terrific again in scoreless start

Right-hander deals as D-backs take opener against Padres

August 15th, 2020

It’s probably time for D-backs right-hander to get a title change.

Instead of being called the No. 5 starter, it’s only fair to refer to Kelly as what he’s been for Arizona so far this year -- its ace.

Kelly turned in another gem Friday night, as he blanked the Padres for 6 2/3 innings in the D-backs’ 5-1 win in the opener of a three-game series at Chase Field. He allowed three hits and two walks while striking out seven.

In four starts this year, Kelly is 3-1 with a 1.71 ERA. He has pitched at least six innings in each of those outings, striking out 22 and walking only three over 26 1/3 total frames.

Kelly looked to be the odd man out of Arizona's rotation in the spring, and then again when baseball started up in July. But when veteran right-hander Mike Leake elected not to play this year, it opened the fifth starter’s job, and Kelly grabbed it.

“He started out as our fifth starter this year,” D-backs pitching coach Matt Herges said. “He was on that bubble, I would say, of who was going to be the fifth starter and which starter was going to go to the bullpen. And look what he’s done. He’s taken it, and he’s been our best starter.”

Kelly, who spent four years pitching in Korea before signing with the D-backs prior to the 2019 season, is not looking for a new title.

“I mean, four games, and I don't know if you could anoint someone an ace just four games into a season,” Kelly said. “I came in with the mentality this spring that, in my mind, I was always a starter. I was a starter until they told me to do something else. So, I've just kind of kept that mentality. Like I said, I just try to come in every day and just do my job. Just continue to try to do that.”

And really, why would Kelly want to change a thing right now? He can spot all of his pitches -- a cutter, two-seam fastball, four-seam fastball, changeup and curveball -- at any point in a count, and that's kept opposing hitters from being able to sit on any one pitch.

“He's just rolling,” Herges said. “And let's just keep doing that, not reinvent the wheel. Just keep rolling with what's working for him. That's basically what the scouting report was for today. The meeting was, ‘Listen, you’re pitching well. We know these guys, we’ve faced them a lot. Here are a couple highlights, things that may have stuck out, but let's stick with the plan and keep executing the way you’re executing.’ It was the quickest meeting we've had.”

Not surprising given the success Kelly has had, he is feeling confident, and once a pitcher has confidence in himself and conviction behind the pitches he throws, that’s when special things can happen.

Herges said that Kelly is “dripping with confidence,” and that was backed up by outfielder Kole Calhoun, who played with Kelly at Yavapai Community College (Ariz.) as well as at Arizona State University.

As a hitter, Calhoun knows that when pitchers have confidence on the mound, it makes things that much tougher on the guy at the plate.

“Anybody that's throwing the ball well, it feels like they have that,” Calhoun said. “Like they're going to go out and throw each pitch where they want to, and it's their body language. They’re just going pitch to pitch and trust what they’re doing. When there’s a guy on the mound like that, it's tough as a hitter.”

Calhoun gave Kelly all the run support he needed with a leadoff homer in the sixth off Padres starter Dinelson Lamet, which just cleared the right-field wall.

In the eighth, Calhoun also had an RBI single as the D-backs gave their bullpen plenty of cushion with a four-run rally.