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ESPN: Merrill Kelly’s role in rotation a story to watch for D-backs

(AP Photo/Ralph Freso)

Last season, the Diamondbacks rotation was relatively static throughout the majority of the year. Patrick Corbin was the ace at the top, Zack Greinke and Zack Godley anchored down the second and third spots, and the last two spots were usually filled by some combination of Robbie Ray, Clay Buchholz and Matt Koch.

Things have changed heading into 2019, though. Corbin and Buchholz are both not on the roster, with the former signing with the Nationals in December and the latter still remaining a free agent, which means Greinke, Ray and Godley will all take steps up the totem pole.

This also means that the bottom of the rotation will need filling out, a job that figures to be tasked to Merrill Kelly.

Kelly, a local product who attended Arizona State before being drafted by the Rays in 2010, spent the last four years of his career in the Korean Baseball Organization. While there, he was able to add significant velocity to his fastball, which ultimately helped him turn his career around.

The D-backs signed Kelly to a two-year contract in December because of this, and according to ESPN’s David Schoenfield, his return to the majors is one thing to watch for during Spring Training.

Who is Merrill Kelly? The D-backs are hoping to pull off a coup with Kelly, similar to what the Cardinals did last year when they plucked Miles Mikolas out of Japan. Kelly, a former Rays farmhand, spent the past four seasons pitching in Korea, and he will get a crack at replacing Patrick Corbin in the rotation.

Mikolas is the latest example of a player’s return to the majors from overseas being a success.

Last winter, the Cardinals signed Mikolas, who had last pitched in the majors in 2014, to a two-year deal after a very productive three-year stint in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball League. He rewarded them in a big way, finishing sixth in the NL Cy Young voting after recording an 18-4 record with a 2.83 ERA in 32 starts.

The D-backs are hoping Kelly can pull off something similar, and if he can, it will deepen the team’s rotation significantly.

Despite this, Schoenfield doesn’t see much reason for D-backs fans to be optimistic about next season, mainly due to the departures of Corbin, Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock.

Level of excitement: 2. The franchise icon is gone. Corbin is gone. A.J. Pollock signed with a division rival. I’d say this will affect attendance, but the Diamondbacks seem to draw 2 million to 2.2 million no matter how good or bad the team plays.

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