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D-backs’ Merrill Kelly needs strong start as rotation questions loom

Merrill Kelly #29 of the Arizona Diamondbacks checks a a runner at first base during the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on August 23, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Teams are wearing special color schemed uniforms with players choosing nicknames to display for Players Weekend. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo wasn’t shy to admit it on Tuesday.

He told Burns & Gambo on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station that rookie starting pitcher Merrill Kelly is in perilous territory. More specifically, he answered in the affirmative when asked if Kelly was entering “dangerous territory” when it came to the possibility of losing his spot in the D-backs’ starting rotation.

“He is. And he knows that,” Lovullo said. “And that’s one of the things that we sat down and hammered out for about an hour with [pitching coach] Mike Butcher and [bullpen coach] Mike Fetters, he and myself. We just got it all out. There’s been several conversations that that group has had with Merrill. I had one in particular a few weeks ago and talked to him about certain things that I wanted to see improve.”

It’s understandable. Kelly probably isn’t having the season that he’d want to have.

His ERA is approaching five, sitting at 4.86 as of Tuesday. He’s tied for the NL lead in losses with 13. His 1.37 WHIP is 55th out of 70 qualifying pitchers in the major leagues. Kelly’s first season in the major leagues, one that follows several years of pitching in Korea, has been somewhat bumpy.

Over the weekend, while the D-backs were in Milwaukee, Lovullo told reporters prior to a game that he would have an update on Kelly’s rotation spot following that day’s game. Once the game was over, Lovullo announced Kelly would stay in the rotation, per The Athletic’s Zach Buchanan.

“You don’t just yank the rug out from somebody out of nowhere,” Lovullo said. “But I told him that he has quickly approached my comfort threshold. And if it doesn’t get better, then we might have another conversation. So, he knows. He’s on the clock with it. He shared some information with us that we feel like we can coach him a little bit better, for sure. But we all know as a group what needs to happen: He needs to go out and throw a good baseball game. If not, we’ll probably have another conversation. If so, we’re going to continue to carry on the way we have.”

Most recently, Kelly pitched 4.1 innings against the Brewers on Friday. He allowed six earned runs on eight hits, four walks and five strikeouts. He’s scheduled to pitch again on Wednesday, a game in which Lovullo hopes Kelly will rebound.

“But I feel very strongly, based on what Merrill told me and the fight that he showed while he was sitting down in my office after getting challenged by several comments, that he wants the baseball and he’s going to do something special,” Lovullo said.

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