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Merrill Kelly’s strong start spoiled as D-backs lose to Brewers

Merrill Kelly #29 of the Arizona Diamondbacks delivers a pitch in the first inning of the MLB game against the Milwaukee Brewers Chase Field on July 18, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Getting ahead of themselves would bite the Arizona Diamondbacks.

They face two bottom-five MLB teams, the Orioles and Marlins, after a four-game series against the National League Wild Card-hunting Milwaukee Brewers that began Thursday at Chase Field. Their own postseason hopes are in the front of the mind at this point, especially with the July 31 MLB trade deadline also acting as a deadline for their front office to decide how well-equipped they will be to remain in the playoff race.

Unfortunately for Arizona, looking too far ahead is the least of their worries.

The D-backs (49-48) got a strong seven-inning performance out of starting pitcher Merrill Kelly as he toed the rubber opposite Brewers rising youngster Zach Davies (2.89 ERA, 7-2), but it didn’t take long for Kelly’s performance to get spoiled in a 5-1 loss.

Arizona reliever Yoan Lopez replaced Kelly in the eighth frame with the game knotted at 1-1 before the floodgates opened for a three-run Milwaukee inning that broke the stalemate.

“It’s a tough game to lose,” Kelly said. “You want to get off to a good start in this series with … the implications this series has.”

Once Kelly left after 93 pitches, the Brewers strung together a ground-rule double and two singles to take a 2-1 lead in the eighth. Then a throwing error on Arizona catcher Carson Kelly — Milwaukee’s attempt to steal third induced a high throw — led to another run. A Brewers sacrifice fly added a third before the D-backs could get a second out in the inning, and Milwaukee had itself a three-run advantage.

“I think it was just some misfires over the plate — they were looking to hit the fastball, they squared it up,” Lovullo said of Lopez’s rough 0.1 inning of four hits and three earned runs allowed. “Some secondary stuff, I think they did a good job of giving up a little bit of their swing to execute.”

The D-backs entered the Brewers series a half-game out of a Wild Card spot but after Thursday are 1.5 games behind Milwaukee, which finds itself in sole possession of the last playoff spot in the NL.

“Somebody asked me a question, whether I was worried about being .500,” Lovullo said before the game. “The answer is yeah, because I feel like this is a very good baseball team and we’re much better than our record indicates.”

It felt like the case most of Thursday until a fine overall game blew up in their face in the blink of an eye.

Kelly went 7.0 innings without a walk, striking out six while allowing three hits and one earned run. In the fourth, he showed his full repertoire of stuff, finishing off three swinging batters in a row with his deadly curveball.

“Seemed like he was in command of every pitch that he threw tonight,” Lovullo said.

“It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t get him a little run support, and we’d be talking about that outing in a little different way. We’ll take that every fifth day.”

The first seven frames indeed looked like a back-and-forth between two teams fighting for playoff positioning. In the first inning, D-backs second baseman Eduardo Escobar’s deep drive toward the Chase Field pool was nabbed before going over the fence by Brewers center fielder Lorenzo Cain, earning Cain a hat-tip from Escobar.

After an arching, no-out triple off the center field wall by Milwaukee’s Mike Moustakas to lead off the top of the second, Ryan Braun hit a sacrifice fly to right field to put the Brewers ahead, 1-0. Arizona tied the game in the bottom of the frame when Jake Lamb singled in Christian Walker from second.

From there, it was a pitchers’ duel of five straight innings of zeroes — then came a three-run eighth and one-run ninth by Milwaukee to put the D-backs away unceremoniously.

The Diamondbacks’ teeter-tottering in the win-loss columns — they’ve gone 3-3 since the All-Star break — won’t help general manager Mike Hazen decide how to act at the fast-approaching trade deadline. And for a team with a better road record (29-25) than home record (20-23), a seven-game homestand against a similarly average Brewers team and a lowly Orioles squad doesn’t exactly breathe much confidence that Arizona is close to going streaking in any direction.

“It bothers me a little bit, I’m not going to lie,” Lovullo said. “We got to find a way to play better at home.”

BASE HITS

— Braun caught D-backs reliever T.J. McFarland for a solo home run in the ninth frame to give Milwaukee its fifth and final run of the night.

— Arizona pitcher Jon Duplantier, who has been recovering from shoulder inflammation since last pitching in the majors on June 11, has made his third rehab appearance, this time with Single-A Visalia after two games in Arizona League play. He needed just 33 pitches to get through 3.0 frames Thursday while allowing two hits without a run scored or a walk. Duplantier was aiming to go 3.0 innings and reach a maximum of 45 pitches.

— Duplantier was joined in Single-A by outfielder Blake Swihart, who has been out since the beginning of June with a strained oblique.

— Outfielder Jarrod Dyson is day-to-day and expected to be OK after exiting Wednesday’s game in Texas with a hamstring cramp.

D-backs Interviews and Segments