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Merrill Kelly turns in his best outing of 2021 as D-backs roll over Padres

Merrill Kelly (AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — It wasn’t a shutout but it was pretty darn close.

The Arizona Diamondbacks continued their winning ways Tuesday night with an impressive 5-1 win over the visiting San Diego Padres.

Arizona has now allowed just one run over the last three games, while the offense has come alive to the tune of 17 runs scored.

After stellar showings from Zac Gallen and Madison Bumgarner, Merrill Kelly followed suit, tossing a six-inning gem that resulted in just one earned run off of four hits and two walks. He also struck out five in what was easily his best game of 2021.

“I think it’s just everyone going out there and trying to do their job,” Kelly said postgame. “Watching how the road trip went and everybody pitching so well, at least for myself I felt like I needed to step it up a little bit. The first couple games hadn’t gone the way I wanted it to. I felt like I pitched pretty well in those games … maybe an inning or two or a pitch here or there kinda got away from me that hurt me.

“But the guys are doing great. … I think everybody’s starting to hit their stride, at least it seems like it. … The fact that we are where we are in the standings and in the mix to win everything … and just getting hit with the injury bug a little bit, I think we have a lot more in the tank. … Once those guys get back I think we’ll start really rolling.”

It didn’t long for Kelly to settle into his fifth start of the season, using six pitches to ring up the dangerous Fernando Tatis Jr. A double would follow, but wouldn’t amount to anything, as Kelly navigate the rest of the frame with ease.

He followed it up with a back-to-back strikeouts in the second inning before getting Padres outfielder Jurickson Profar to line out to second baseman Eduardo Escobar.

Momentum stayed squarely on Arizona’s side in the bottom of the inning.

Catcher Carson Kelly kicked off the inning with a one-out single. Shortstop Nick Ahmed moved Kelly over with a base hit of his own two batters later, making way for outfielder Nick Heath with two outs showing.

The outfielder turned on his third offering of the at-bat, sending a hard hit ball to left-center field with two Padres in the vicinity.

But instead of making the routine out, Trent Grisham and Profar miscommunicated, resulting in a dropped ball for San Diego and a pair of gifted runs for Arizona.

Heading back out with a 2-0 lead in hand, Kelly continued to give the Padres grief, allowing just one hit and two walks over the next three innings of work.

Kelly’s lone blemish of the evening came in the sixth inning. After getting the best of Tatis for most of the matchup, Kelly gave up a leadoff double to the shortstop. He would advance to third after tagging up on a Grisham flyout. Manny Machado’s groundout the next at-bat was just enough to put the Padres on the board. Kelly would give up a single to Eric Hosmer before striking out Wil Myers to end the inning.

Kelly may not have changed up how he was throwing the ball, but the pitcher did add that there was something different with his wardrobe that helped him Tuesday night.

“For one thing, I went to the back and grabbed my pants from two years ago,” the starter said. “They’re a little baggier, they’re a little bigger. I felt a little more like myself, felt little more comfortable, not as restricted. That was a big aspect of it.

“It’s just a progression, we just try to get better every start and every outing. Big deal coming off of the two games in Atlanta. Watching Zac and Bum do their thing, everyone kinda — at least for me — really needs to step up their game and that was kinda my mentality today. Just following in their footsteps and keeping this thing rolling.”

While Kelly’s night would come to an end, the offense was just warming up.

Answering back with three runs in the sixth, the D-backs cut off any momentum the Padres might have been building. A lot of that can be credited to catcher Carson Kelly, who used a booming two-run shot to keep things comfortable at Chase Field.

The catcher’s bomb marked his sixth of the season, surpassing his 2020 total in just 17 games played.

“He worked on [his swing mechanics] this spring training. There was a program that was outlined to him, he built in some trust with his coaches,” skipper Torey Lovullo said of the catcher. “He accepted that coaching. You can see it’s paying some incredible dividends for him.

“He’s in a good spot, not only because he’s driving the baseball and slugging, but he’s using the entire field and seeing pitches and he’s done a really nice job not missing the pitch he’s looking for.”

With Merrill Kelly out of the game, the D-backs turned to the bullpen to close things out. Following suit with the starter, the trio of Caleb Smith, J.B. Bukauskas and Taylor Clarke allowed just one walk in the last three innings.

The win gets the D-backs to 12-11 and marks the first time this season Arizona is above .500. The victory moves the D-backs into sole possession of third place, jumping the now-fourth-place Padres.

Arizona will look to extend its winning streak to four games Wednesday in Game 2 of the series.

Tune to ESPN 620 AM at 6:40 p.m. for all the action.

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