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D-backs’ pitching contributes to the team being collectively focused

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)

Two weeks ago, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ hopes for a wild card spot were rapidly vanishing.

Then, the team kicked it into a new gear. With just over 20 games left to go, the team has won eleven of their last fifteen games, and they’re 3.5 games out of a wild card spot.

It’s quite a different look for a team who was widely predicted in the preseason to finish well below .500 and even last in the NL West.

D-backs senior vice president and assistant general manager Jared Porter told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station on Wednesday that the team’s recent surge of success has stemmed from being collectively focused

“The division thing was really important to us,” Porter said. “I know that the home record was talked about a lot but for us it was the division record was probably more important.”

The D-backs have won seven games against divisional rivals in their stretch of success, and a large part of that comes from the pitching.

Right-handed pitcher Merrill Kelly has started to show signs of elevated focus and looks more like the pitcher the D-backs saw a month ago.

“With Merrill, first and foremost, we had seen it a lot in the first half of the season so we knew it was in there,” Porter said. “It wasn’t like we were asking this guy to do something that he hadn’t done before.”

Kelly threw seven shutout innings and only allowed three hits while striking out nine in Tuesday’s win.

Previously, manager Torey Lovullo implied to Burns & Gambo on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station that Kelly needed a strong outing to keep his rotation spot ahead of last week’s series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“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,” Lovullo said. “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.”

And improve he has.

While his Aug. 29 start against the Dodgers didn’t yield the results the team was looking for, Tuesday’s performance certainly did.

“When he focuses and executes, when he gets into the 0-2 and 1-2 counts and makes a good pitch, Merrill Kelly is a very effective pitcher,” Porter said.

As for the bullpen, Porter said players like Kevin Ginkel, Yoan López and Andrew Chafin, among others, have contributed to the success, but Archie Bradley’s unofficial move into the D-backs’ closer roll has been a spark in itself.

“I think Archie’s proven that he can close, it’s not easy,” Porter said. “To say he’s going to be a closer forever, I don’t know, I can’t answer that question. I think he certainly has the stuff, the makeup, the ability to finish games for us in the ninth inning.”

Porter said the organization has felt that they’ve had a solid team all season, and with the team playing well from the bats to the bullpen, it’s showing off when it matters.

“Baseball’s a tough sport,” Porter said. “You look around at the teams we’re up against right now for this wild card spot and those are teams that certainly had high expectations and we’re right there with them.”

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