Kelly 'phenomenal' again, tosses gem in win

August 9th, 2020

You may be surprised by what has done this year, but the D-backs right-hander certainly isn’t.

Kelly once again threw well Saturday night, when he tossed six-plus innings of one-run ball as the D-backs beat the Padres, 3-2, to even the three-game series at Petco Park. and provided the offense, both hitting solo shots, their first home runs since joining Arizona.

“I mean, you can't speak enough about the job that Merrill's done so far for us this year,” Vogt said. “He's got all of his pitches working at any time. His command is just unbelievable. As a catcher, it's so much fun when you have someone who has everything in their repertoire [working]. He really has just given us a chance to win every time he's taken the ball, and that's all you can ask of him. He’s been phenomenal.”

The D-backs have won two of Kelly’s three starts this year, and in the one they didn’t, they were shut out, 3-0, by Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers.

On Saturday, Kelly (2-1) gave up a home run to Fernando Tatis Jr. on his second pitch of the night, marking the second night Tatis hit a leadoff homer. However, that was the only run Kelly allowed.

Kelly clearly had good stuff, but it was his changeup, in particular, that stood out.

“You've got to tip your hat to Kelly tonight,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said. “He was very effective and seemed like he was landing his changeup whenever he wanted. He kept us off-balance.”

San Diego hitters were 0-for-5 when putting Kelly’s changeup in play.

“I would probably say, just looking back on the outings that I've had so far, it was probably the best it’s been,” Kelly said. “As far as depth and action on it, it was really good tonight.”

It was a pitch that came in handy in the only jam Kelly faced, which came in the third inning. Greg Garcia led off with a double, and Tatis followed with a single to put runners on the corners with no outs.

That brought up Trent Grisham, who worked the count full before Kelly threw a fastball toward the outside part of the plate. But Grisham was granted time by home-plate umpire Tom Woodring as Kelly started his delivery, so the pitch did not count.

Vogt then put down the sign for a fastball, but Kelly shook him off to instead go with the changeup.

“I went right back to the fastball, and I love it when [pitchers] shake to something they're convicted in,” Vogt said. “I'm such a huge fan of that.”

Kelly threw the changeup in almost the exact same spot as the previous fastball, and Grisham swung through it. Manny Machado then grounded into a double play to end the inning.

“I thought that was a crucial moment,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. “You know, that's where if you make a mistake or two, you're going to give up a crooked number. I felt like the ballgame and the momentum shifted right back to us by him executing a great game plan and giving up zero runs in that situation.”

Kelly signed with the D-backs prior to the 2019 season after spending the previous four years in Korea. He was 9-13 with a 4.86 ERA in his first 26 starts when Lovullo called him into his office and told him he was in danger of losing his spot in the rotation if he didn’t pitch more aggressively.

Since then, Kelly has been a different pitcher, and with each successful outing, his confidence continues to grow.

“I think it all just kind of comes down to confidence,” Kelly said. “You know, I think I lost my confidence. I think I got caught up in the moment and trying to be better and didn't really see myself as a Major League pitcher, even though I was pitching in Major League games.”

So far this year, there’s no doubt in Kelly’s mind that he belongs, and now the rest of the Majors is learning that, too.