I’m proud to say that I’ve been a believer in Merrill Kelly since he arrived here in 2019. I loved his pitch-to-contact approach and the fact that he was able to go much deeper into games as a result. I recapped a lot of his games in his first year for whatever reason, and even when he was adjusting to MLB hitting, I felt pretty good about him.
So I was happy to catch one of his starts this morning, but to be completely honest I didn’t entirely trust the sub-2.00 ERA that he’s sported so far in this young season. He always seemed to me like a middle-of-the-rotation guy at best, and more likely a fourth or fifth starter who would give us solid outings and eat innings, which we desperately need more of with our starting staff. I am rethinking all of that, and rethinking his upside, after his performance today.
Kelly faced off against Cardinals’ right hander Miles Mikolas, another dude who isn’t a fireballer, throws strikes, pitches to contact, and works quickly. Sure enough, that’s how Mikolas started off, retiring Pavin Smith, Jordan Luplow, and David Peralta on 13 pitches to set the tone in the top of the first. Kelly took the mound in the bottom of the frame and did the same to the top of the Cardinals’ order, sitting down Tommy Edman, our old friend Paul Goldschmidt, and Cardinals’ DH Tyler O’Neill on 12 pitches, resulting in one infield groundout and two swinging strikeouts. And we were off to the races.
Christian Walker reached to lead off the second thanks to a throwing error by third baseman Brendan Donovan, but didn’t budge off the base. In the bottom of the second, Kelly allowed his first of four baserunners on a two-out Harrison Bader seeing-eye single to left. Bader then stole second, but there he remained.
Nick Ahmed led off the third with an infield single on a grounder up the middle that the Cards’ second baseman managed to knock down but couldn’t get a handle on. He was erased pretty much instantly by a sharp Sergio Alcantara grounder to short that was an easy double play ball. Kelly, meanwhile, set St. Louis down in order in the third, needing only ten pitches to do it.
And then nothing much happened after that until the sixth, as both Kelly and Mikolas cruised through the fourth and fifth allowing no baserunners, and only throwing 40 pitches between then through two full innings. We got our second hit of the game with two out in the top of the sixth, and Pavin Smith stroked a two out single to right, and then promptly stole second. Luplow struck out to end things without further incident, and honestly, there was nothing about the inning that felt like a threat. Kelly was pitching lights out, but so was Mikolas.
The first real threat we felt came in the bottom of the sixth. Kelly recorded the first out of the inning on one pitch (which was the fourth time that he’d managed that in sixth innings), but then allowed a long at bat to Cards’ nine hole hitter, shortstop Edmundo Sosa, who stayed alive for six pitches before Kelly plunked him with the seventh. That turned the lineup over and Tommy Edmun lofted a fly ball to deepish center that Jordan Luplow made a bad break on. He caught it, but he was out of position for a quick throw in and Sosa was able to tag and advance to third. This brought Goldy to the plate for the Cards, and St. Louis might have drawn first blood had it not been for this vintage barehand gem by Nick Ahmed:
Elite defense on display. pic.twitter.com/szcJRRvL3Y— Bally Sports Arizona (@BALLYSPORTSAZ) April 30, 2022
St. Louis challenged the out call on the field, but the call was upheld, so no harm done. Phew.
Miles Mikolas was still going strong for St. Louis, sadly, sitting the heart of our order down on three strikeouts in the top of the seventh. Things got a little dicey again for Kelly, meanwhile, in the bottom of the seventh, though really it was through no fault of his own. With two outs and two strikes on him, Yadier Molina went down and got a good Kelly changeup that he broke his bat lifting into shallow center. Had his bat not broken, he would have hit it a bit harder, and I suspect Luplow could have come in and made the catch. Sadly, however, it dropped in for the Cards’ second hit of the day. Harrison Bader then hit a sharp grounder to third that Alcantara allowed to glance off his glove for an error. Kelly was a little bit rattled at this point, it seemed, and also kind of running on fumes—he’d started the inning having thrown only 75 pitches, but after the single and the error his pitch count was at 91. Thankfully, he managed his fourth strikeout of the day to end the frame, and keep the zeros in place.
It had seemed, going into the bottom of the seventh, like Kelly might make it into the eighth, but by the time it was over he was at 97 pitches and Noe Ramirez was warming in the bullpen. Kelly finished his day with a line of 7 IP, 2 H, 4 K, 0 walks and 1 HBP on 97 pitches thrown. It would have been cool to see him pitch deeper, but he was done, which was fine. It was a stellar outing.
Miles Mikolas, meanwhile, was only at 92 pitches after seven, and I guess St. Louis thought it would be cool, too, to have their starter come out for the eighth, because that’s what happened. It was also their undoing. Mikolas faced Ketel Marte to lead off the eighth, and Ketel launched the third pitch he saw over the wall in right:
Ketel Marte breaks through at the perfect time pic.twitter.com/dr7Ea9xcHb— Bally Sports Arizona (@BALLYSPORTSAZ) April 30, 2022
Carson Kelly flew out to center on the next pitch, but then Nick Ahmed wanted to send the fans in left home with a souvenir as well:
That chased Mikolas, who’d pitched brilliantly up until that point. Sergio Alcantara then hit a double, and Jordan Luplow reached with two outs on another St. Louis throwing error on the infield, advancing Alcantara to third, but two runs were all we wound up getting. 2-0 D-BACKS
Two runs were all we needed, though, as Noe Ramirez retired the Cardinals in order in the bottom of the eighth and Ian Kennedy (gulp) closed it out in the ninth after giving up a leadoff walk to Goldy just to make things interesting.
Win Probability Added, courtesy of FanGraphs
Boulder Dam renamed Hoover Dam: Merrill Kelly (see pitching line above, +41.3% WPA)
The Artist Formerly Known as Prince changing his name back to Prince: Ketel Marte (4 AB, 1 H, 1 HR, +21.9% WPA), Nick Ahmed (3 AB, 2 H, 1 HR, +13.4% WPA)
As one might expect from a morning start time and a 0-0 pitching duel through seven, the Gameday Thread was kind of mellow for much of the game, though holy crap did the activity explode once we’d broken it open. All in all, we wound up with 257 comments at the time of writing. Nice job, everybody! It’s nice when we win, and when we win after a helluva a pitching performance by both teams. No CotG, sadly, because the only one that went red was a GIF, and I’m a crotchety old man who scorns these new innovations. And get off my lawn!
Well, at least until tomorrow, when we go for our second consecutive series win! Zach Davies takes the mound for us, facing off against St. Louis righty Jordan Hicks. It’s another morning start for those of us watching in Arizona, with first pitch at 11:15am local time, just like today. Hope you can join us....we’ve played well these past two games, and they’ve been fun to watch!
Anyway, that’s all for this one. As always, thanks for reading, and as always, go Diamondbacks!