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D-backs’ Merrill Kelly poised for 2021 return after having rib removed

Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Merrill Kelly (29) delivers a pitch against the Texas Rangers in the first inning of a baseball game Tuesday, July 28, 2020 in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Richard W. Rodriguez)

Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Merrill Kelly had thoracic outlet surgery performed on Sept. 9 in order to remove a blood clot in his shoulder that has him out for the remainder of the 2020 season.

And exactly one week after having a rib removed, which Kelly got to keep but left in Dallas, he provided an update on his status to reporters via Zoom call.

“I actually feel a lot better than I thought I was going to. It just kind of feels a little tight up in here where they had to connect the muscle back,” he said. “But in terms of pain and soreness, it’s much better than I anticipated, so it’s a good sign to start for sure.”

The D-backs’ right-hander last pitched on Aug. 19 against the Oakland A’s, where he allowed four runs on five hits while striking out seven over five innings of work in a 4-1 loss for Arizona.

“That game I threw in Oakland, that morning was tough, but then I got through it,” Kelly said. “Once I started warming up, it kind of went away but then pretty much every day after that it kind of regressed and the pressure started building up, the discoloration just got to a point that I knew something was wrong. Something wasn’t normal.”

What happened from there was a “big whirlwind” for the 31-year-old, as Kelly would find himself in the hospital the very next day getting the blood clot removed from his shoulder.

“After that, just talking to the surgeons and talking to the team, it became pretty clear that the procedure that needed to be done was taking that first rib out,” he said. “So it was a pretty good process. I tried to gather as much information I could.”

Kelly spoke with other big league pitchers that have experienced similar operations over the course of their careers in order to get a better idea as to what the surgery itself would be like and what life will be like afterward.

Those pitchers included the Baltimore Orioles’ Alex Cobb (surgery in 2015) and the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Chris Archer, who had his operation done this past summer.

“Once I kind of talked to those guys, I started wrapping my mind around the fact that this is what was about to happen and this is what needed to happen,” Kelly said.

The right-hander added that his arm not being swollen or purple is the most important thing to him right now.

“Obviously hearing that I had a blot clot in my shoulder out of this whole experience was by far the scariest part,” Kelly said. “At 31 years old, you’re not expecting to hear that news. So that was kind of a shock.

“A lot of emotions kind of went through my body that day: frustration, shock, a lot of things that I wasn’t anticipating on trying to deal with at this age.”

But that doesn’t mean that the D-backs’ right-hander isn’t optimistic about the future.

In fact, Kelly began his first day of rehab on Wednesday and his surgeon said there’s no reason why he can’t return for the 2021 season.

“I’ve been told that I should be ready to go for spring training,” Kelly said. “I think throwing wise I’ve been told late November/early December, so that’s a positive in my mind.

“But right now I’m just taking it day-by-day. I don’t want to get too ahead of myself. I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself to get back as fast as possible. I kind of want to go through the process and the protocols that are in place just to make sure that I’m healthy and ready to go.”

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