Merrill Kelly pitched a gem tonight. He gave up a run in the top of the first, and had a somewhat shaky top of the second, but around that it was perfectly smooth sailing, and what we have been hoping for since the start of the year from our rotation anchor in 2021 and 2022.
Walks and pitch control have been a concern so far with Kelly this year, up until tonight. He had allowed 18 bases on balls in his first 32.1 innings pitched in 2023, coming into tonight. He’d also managed, on a related note, to finish the sixth inning in three of his seven starts. It’s not been what we have come to expect from the man the broadcast team insists on calling “The Mainstay”. I always enjoy watching Kelly pitch, but I was hoping for a better start from him tonight than I’ve seen so far. And lordy, did I get it.
Kelly threw 16 pitches in the first, and struck out the side, the only blemish being a one-out homer to Washington second baseman Luis Garcia that looked like it was a longish foul but wound up creeping just inside the left field foul pole. 1-0 Washington
The top of the second was maybe a bit more ominous, as Kelly, after quickly retiring the first batter he faced on a weak grounder to the mound, walked his next batter on four pitches and followe d by giving up a single to right. Another weak grounder, this one to Rojas at third, resulted in a force at second for the second out, but runners were on the corners. Merrill ended it, though, by striking out Victor Robles, batting in the nine-hole tonight and also the only Nationals’ hitter sporting a batting average above .300, to end things without actual injury.
Kelly then pitched his first utterly clean inning in the top of the third, retiring the top of Washington’s lineup in order, ending another inning with another strikeout, his fifth K of the night to that point. He only needed 13 pitches to get through the frame, too, putting him at 48 for the night after a 19-pitch second.
You may notice that I haven’t mentioned the offense yet, and what they were doing against Washington starter Josiah Gray, and that’s because in the first two innings we did pretty much nothing. Ketel Marte drew a one-out walk in the first, Pavin Smith singled to lead off the second, Gaby Moreno advanced him to second one out later with a single of his own, but nothing came of any of those baserunners.
Happily, Corbin Carroll was back in the lineup tonight, batting third as the designated hitter, and with two outs in the top of the third he decided to make this a whole new ballgame with no help from anyone (aside from, it could be argued, Josiah Gray):
Welcome back Corbin Carroll! pic.twitter.com/k8V32wQDVB— Bally Sports Arizona (@BALLYSPORTSAZ) May 6, 2023
Christian Walker followed with a single to shallow right, but was left standing there as Pavin Smith grounded out. 1-1 TIE
Kelly gave up a one-out single in the fourth, but that baserunner was promptly erased with a nifty 3-6-3 double play initiated by Christian Walker, which sat the Nationals down in order again, this time with only seven pitches thrown. Lovely.
We took the lead in the fourth against Gray, for whom the wheels seemed like they were starting to come off. Dominic Fletcher, playing left field for us tonight, singled to center to start the inning. Moreno advanced him to second with an infield single in the proximity of the mound, but then Gray threw the ball away for an error that put Moreno and Fletcher on second and third respectively. Alek Thomas, who continues to look like an absolute disaster at the plate, struck out for the second time, before Geraldo Perdomo walked to load the bases with one out. Josh Rojas, who had also struck out twice up to this point, hit a slow grounder to short that looked like it would be a fielder’s choice with Perdomo forced at second, but we challenged the force at second and the call was overturned on review. Fletcher scored from third, and the bases were still loaded with one out. Ketel Marte then hit a sacrifice fly to left, scoring Moreno, and it was feeling like a bigger crooked number might be coming before something deeply stupid happened on the basepaths that seemed to involve Rojas breaking from first to try to steal second while Perdomo was standing on second, and then Perdomo belatedly starting for third, and then getting chased around the infield by Keibert Ruiz, the Nationals’ catcher, until he was eventually tagged out on what was officially scored a “caught stealing” play. What it was, really, was a TOOTBLAN for the ages. We should have come away with more. 3-1 D-BACKS
Despite some doom and gloom predicitions in the Gameday Thread, though, it turned out that we didn’t need any more. We didn’t even need the run from the Marte sac fly. Merrill Kelly sat the Nationals down in order again in the top of the fifth, throwing ten pitches and notching another strikeout, and then got through the sixth with fourteen more pitches, balancing a one-out single with two more Ks to end the inning, and retired the side in order a fourth and final time in a perfect top of the seventh, recording his last two strikeouts of the outing.
Truly, it was a gem. Kelly finished the night with a line of 7 IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 1 HR, 1 BB, 10 K, with 92 pitches thrown, 63 of them for strikes. He also faced 25 batters overall, and greeted 18 of them with first-pitch strikes, which is perhaps the surest sign that Marrill’s getting back to his usual self on the mound. Maybe not Venus on the half-shell, but it was close, especially after the shaky outings our starters have been giving us recently.
And that’s pretty much your ballgame right there. Josiah Gray had left the game after his fifth inning of work, but aside from a one-out walk by Carroll in the bottom of the seventh, our offense did nothing more against the Nationals. Washington did nothing against us either, though, as Miguel Castro sat them down in order in the eighth and Chafin did the same in the ninth. Our pitching truly shone tonight, which was good to see.
Win Probability Added, courtesy of FanGraphs
Shane: Merrill Kelly (7 IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 1 HR, 1 BB, 10 K, 92 pitches, 63 strikes, 29.9% WPA)
The Treasure of Sierra Madre: Gaby Moreno (4 AB, 2 H, 1 R, +14.4% WPA)
Josiah Gray Josey Wales: Alek Thomas (3 AB, 0 H, 2 K, 4 LOB, -11.9% WPA)
Kind of a light Gameday Thread tonight, with only 140 comments at time of writing, but, well, we were playing the abidingly rebuilding Nationals, and it’s also Cinco de Mayo, so hopefully many of the usual suspects were out celebrating and doing Cinco de Mayo things. Fair enough. It was a fun thread, but sadly, nothing went Sedona Red, so there will be no CotG tonight.
If you are able, please join us tomorrow as we try to clinch another series win in a battle of lefties, with Tommy Henry facing off against Washington starter Mackenzie Gore. First pitch is 5:10pm AZ time. Hope to see you!
It’s always nice to get, and to get to write about, another Friday night win. As always, thank you so much for reading, and as always, go Diamondbacks!