Arizona Diamondbacks name Merrill Kelly fifth starting pitcher

Jul 18, 2020, 3:28 PM | Updated: 7:37 pm
Arizona Diamondbacks' Merrill Kelly throws during the first inning of a spring training baseball ga...
Arizona Diamondbacks' Merrill Kelly throws during the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the San Francisco Giants, Monday, March 2, 2020, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

On Saturday, the Arizona Diamondbacks made it official: Merrill Kelly will be a starting pitcher on the 2020 season roster.

It’s been widely assumed Kelly would take the fifth spot in the rotation following Mike Leake’s announcement he would not play this season, but the Diamondbacks had not announced it publicly or even to Kelly until Saturday.

“I’m excited about it … I love having that fifth day as your day, I love the preparation that goes into it and being a starter,” he said to media during a Zoom call.

“Definitely some dominoes fell in the right places for me to be able to take that opportunity, but I plan on taking that opportunity and running with it as best I can.”

With the announcement, the Diamondbacks’ rotation will be Madison Bumgarner, Robbie Ray, Zac Gallen, Luke Weaver and Kelly in that order, manager Torey Lovullo said.

Left-handed pitcher Alex Young will move to a bullpen role.

Lovullo said during a Zoom call Saturday that he and his staff hadn’t made a decision on the final rotation until Friday night.

“We’ve all been sensing that (Kelly’s) been throwing the ball extremely well throughout this summer camp,” Lovullo said. “He came in ready and prepared.”

Kelly’s 13 wins last season was a reason he was under consideration early, the manager noted.

As a 30-year-old rookie last year, Kelly went 13-14 with a 4.42 ERA.

He had a solid beginning to his MLB career, posting a 3.77 ERA through his first 20 starts, but imploded over the next seven, posting an 8.91 ERA during that stretch — a stretch in which he later called himself “probably the worst starter in the big leagues.”

He settled down in September, recording three seven-inning shutouts over five starts.

“Trying to take the last game into the next one, I think was my biggest problem last year through that skid,” Kelly said. “I was going bad and I tried real hard to be better rather than just trust in what I’ve done and trust in the preparation I did.”

This year, Kelly will likely only have a dozen starts over the 60 games, intensifying the importance of not letting a bad performance cloud the next game.

Over six starts in June, Kelly had a 2.75 ERA in 39.1 innings. Over six starts from July 23 through Aug. 23, he had a 9.20 ERA in 29.1 innings. Over his five starts in September, he had a 2.18 ERA in 33.0 innings.

He needs his two six-game segments in 2020 to be more like the two All-Star level peaks of 2019, and not the July to August valley.

“Obviously this season’s going to be a little bit different just cause it’s only 60 games, it’s a sprint, so I think the pressure might be on everybody a little bit more than usual,” he said.

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