Over the past couple of years, I feel like I’ve wound up recapping an awful lot of Merrill Kelly starts, and I’ve generally been pleased to watch him perform. I was a bit nervous this time out, however, because he’s been off to a slow start so far in 2021, entering today with an unsightly 7.71 ERA, four short outings under his belt, and very high pitch counts in each of them. Facing off against a tough Padres lineup, I honestly wasn’t sure what we were gonna get. Happily, however, my concerns turned out to be wildly overblown.
In the top of the first, Merrill recorded his first K of the night by striking out Padres leadoff hitter Fernando Tatis Jr. He then surrendered a double to Trent Grisham that probably would have been a single for a slower human. Manny Machado then flied out to center on the first pitch he saw, and Eric Hosmer grounded out to Nick Ahmed at short. So, one inning, 14 pitches, no real damage. The Diamondbacks went quietly in order in the bottom half, only managing to see 11 pitches off San Diego starter Chris Paddack.
Kelly pitched a shutdown second inning, happily, striking out the first two batters he faced, looking, on only seven pitches total, before getting Jurickson Profar to line out to Eduardo Escobar, who was manning second this evening. Two innings, now, only 25 pitches thrown. So far, so good.
Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks offense began to stir in the bottom of the inning, As Carson Kelly hit a one-out single to center, which was followed one out later by a Nick Ahmed single to right. This brought center fielder Nick Heath up to the plate. Heath hit a lazy fly ball to center which looked like it would end the burgeoning threat. But then this happened:
The Nick's (Ahmed & Heath) keep the inning alive and get the D-backs on the board! pic.twitter.com/ciOHeQdvzk— Bally Sports Arizona (@BallySportSAZ) April 28, 2021
That bit of clown-show outfield play allowed both Kelly and Ahmed to score, and got Heath to third base. The play was correctly scored as an error against Grisham. That brought Merrill to the plate, and he proceeded to strike out, but not only had we cleared the pitcher’s spot, we also had a lead. 2-0 D-BACKS
Merrill then had quite the adventure pitching the top of the third. He surrendered a aleadoff single to the Padres catcher, Victor Caratini, after a 6-pitch AB. Paddack promptly bunted Caratini to second. Then Tatis was up for the second time, and battled through 10 pitches before finally popping out to first baseman Pavin Smith in foul territory. A 7-pitch AB followed to Grisham, which ended happily with a fly out to Kole Calhoun in right. But dang. Kelly only faced four batters, but his pitch count doubled to 50 pitches through three.
Both teams kinda took a breather then, with nothing of note happening through the fourth or the fifth innings. Kelly was giving up longer at-bats, along with two walks, but he got through five at only 80 pitches.
And I appear to be obsessing over the pitch count tonight. It’s your lucky day! Enjoy! I’ll stop soon, I promise. No, really. Really.
Kelly took the mound for the sixth, once more facing off against Tatis. This AB was mercifully shorter than the one in the third, but ended less happily, as Tatis managed to lace the third pitch he saw down the right field line for a double. Grisham then flied out to Calhoun in right, easily deep enough for Tatis to advance to third. Machado then smoked a grounder to Asdrubel Cabrera at third, who made a nice play on the ball but wound up on his knees. A very nice throw to first got Machado, but Tatis scored easily. This, incidentally, ended a streak of 20 scoreless innings that Diamondbacks pitching had strung together over the last several games. Kelly then surrendered a single to Eric Hosmer, before striking out Wil Myers to end the inning. The run was unfortunate, but Kelly had made it through six, with his pitch count at 95. Not bad. Not bad at all. 2-1 D-BACKS
I was kinda worried how a one-run lead would hold up against a potent lineup like San Diego’s but it turns out I needn’t have, as Kole Calhoun led off the bottom of the sixth with a bloop single to shallow left. Cabrera then struck out, but a Paddack wild pitch allowed him to advance to second anyway with David Peralta at the plate. Calhoun then promptly stole third, which was neat, but came up from his slide grasping at the back of his left leg, which was not at all neat. Trainers came out, and Josh Rojas came it to pinch-run for him. Ugh. Peralta drove Rojas home with a single to left, and then Carson Kelly came to the plate. I guess he wanted more insurance for Merrill’s quality start, because he did this:
Carson Kelly is EN FUEGO!— Bally Sports Arizona (@BallySportSAZ) April 28, 2021
D-backs up 5-1 in the 6th. pic.twitter.com/74MfiMKaQb
That ended Paddack’s night, and Craig Stammen relieved him, making short work of both Escobar and Ahmed. 5-1 D-BACKS
And that was all she wrote, really. Caleb Smith, JB Bukauskas and Taylor Clarke put up zeros in the seventh, eighth and ninth, respectively, while the Diamondbacks offense went to bed early. It was a very good outing all around, though, against a tough team.
Win Probability Added (courtesy of FanGraphs)
Arthur Dent: Merrill Kelly (6 IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 2BB, 5K, 22.4% WPA)
Ford Prefect: Nick Heath (0 H, 0 RBI, 1 K, 18.3% WPA)
Zaphod Beeblebrox: Carson Kelly (3 AB, 2H, 2R 2 RBI, 1 HR, 11.0% WPA)
We had a fairly lively though somewhat sparsely attended Gameday Thread tonight, with 18 commenters supplying 240 posts. Nik once again let the way with 39, just edging out DC an Michael, who each clocked in at 37. All present and accounted for were: AzDbackfanInDc, Buono93, DORRITO, Dano_in_Tucson, Diamondhacks, GuruB, Jack Sommers, Keegan Thompson, Michael McDermott, MrMrrbi, NikT77, Oldenschoole, Smurf1000, Snake_Bitten, gzimmerm, kilnborn, since_98, therealramona
Comment of the game goes to Michael for this timely observation, which he posted just before the D-Backs came to the plate in the bottom of the sixth.
The miniseries with the Padres concludes tomorrow, with Taylor Widener taking the mound against lefty Ryan Weathers. Same bat time, same bat channel, first pitch at 6:40pm AZ time. Hope you can join us!
Thanks as always for reading. Go D-Backs!