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D-backs pitcher Merrill Kelly gets back on track in third start

Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Merrill Kelly throws against the Cleveland Indians during the first inning of a spring training baseball game, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

GOODYEAR, Ariz. – Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher and hometown product Merrill Kelly continues to improve and on Sunday, demonstrated why he can be a valuable asset to the D-backs roster.

In his third start of spring, Kelly didn’t allow a hit or a run in four innings of quick work against the Cincinnati Reds. He struck out four and walked two. The D-backs won the game 3-2.

“That was what I hope to feel like,” said Kelly after Sunday’s start. “I think the first couple of outings, just trying to get my feet underneath me, you know there was obviously a lot of thoughts going through my mind the first couple of outings with just not only baseball but external stuff.

“And I think this week, I think I’ve been able to kind of lay those to rest, and today was the first time that I really felt more like myself on the mound than I have pretty much all spring.”

After spending five seasons in the minors and four seasons in foreign leagues, the 30-year old rookie righty looks to make 2019 the year he finally makes an impact on the majors, but he admitted that his mental focus wasn’t there in his first two starts.

“I feel like just the normal, human thoughts. You know, new team, new setting, new stage,” he admitted. “I wanted to come in and show everybody why it is they signed me rather than just doing what it is that they signed me for.

“That, plus family here, my wife’s family’s here, I think all of those thoughts just kind of got amplified a little bit rather than kind of embracing them and using that excitement towards what I’m doing, I think everything was happening way too fast. And I think this week, I was finally able to slow that down.”

Kelly went to and played for Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale before playing in college for Yavapai College in Prescott and Arizona State University.

Needless to say he has a lot of hometown friends, family, and fans rooting for him this spring.

His start on Sunday was his best outing of the spring after giving up five hits, four walks, and five earned runs in his previous two appearances.

With half of the squad playing south of the border on Saturday and Sunday, D-backs’ pitching coach Mike Butcher saw some promising improvements in Kelly’s third appearance.

“I thought he had good tempo in his delivery,” said Butcher. “I thought he threw more quality pitches. I thought he was a lot of more aggressive in the zone, I think that’s the bottom line where he was attacking better this outing.

“I think he got his feet underneath him.”

In eight seasons at all levels, Kelly has a 3.63 ERA in 172 starts with 891 strikeouts, a 2.41 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and a 1.303 WHIP.

This is the second time Kelly has been in major league camp in his career, with his first coming with Tampa Bay in 2014.

“It’s been a special journey so far,” said Kelly. “Just with my family here, my wife’s family here, all of our friends here, and that type of thing. The support has been unbelievable.

“I just need to do a better job of, you know, enjoying that support when I need to enjoy it and doing my job separately. I think at first I wasn’t doing a great job of doing that.”


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