D-backs’ Kelly nearly goes the distance in win over the Cubs
PHOENIX – Starting pitcher Merrill Kelly continues to shine for the Arizona Diamondbacks, throwing a nearly complete game in a 6-4 win over the Chicago Cubs in the finale of their three-game series at Chase Field.
Kelly is now 4-0 with a 2.35 ERA in his last six starts. The D-backs have won five of those six games.
Utility man Josh Rojas was 1-for-1 with a double, four walks, a stolen base and a run scored in the win. Arizona third baseman Eduardo Escobar went 1-for-3 with a home run, two RBIs, two walks and a run scored.
“Today was a special day for Merrill,” manager Torey Lovullo said on Kelly’s day. “It starts and stops with starting pitching each and every night, we know that. And he set a terrific tone for us.”
Kelly came out of the gate hot on the mound for Arizona, with four scoreless innings of his first five pitched. He had six clean innings total in the outing as he was incredibly efficient with his pitches all day.
“I try to get quick outs, I try to be efficient,” Kelly said on this outing.
“I’m not the 95-98 (mph) guy that’s gonna punch everybody out, so I got to rely on my defense a lot,” Kelly added. “I got to rely on weak contact and getting on and off the field as quick as I can. I just think today our game plan matched up with their aggressiveness and execution.”
His mid-80s change-up mixed with a 93 mph four-seam fastball in the zone kept Cubs batters off balance. Kelly gave up one hit in five innings with four strikeouts before running into any trouble.
In the fifth inning and the third time through the lineup, Kelly gave up a two-out RBI double to Kris Bryant that scored Robinson Chirinos followed by an RBI single to Javier Baez that tied the game.
Kelly answered back with quick innings in the seventh and eighth as he continued to be bargain basement thrifty with his pitch count.
Lovullo admitted that this might have been the most efficient he’s seen from any pitcher in his time as manager of this team.
“[Kelly] was pitch efficient,” the D-backs manager said. “Following the game plan, he and Daulton [Varsho] did a terrific job of setting up hitters and finishing off hitters.
“It might be one of the most efficiently pitched games that I’ve seen since I’ve been here. I know Bum’s seven-inning no hitter in Atlanta was very, very good – very similar. But that pitch count never climbed, and I felt like we had to run him out there and give him the opportunity to finish the ballgame.”
With a sub-80 pitch count after eight, Kelly came out for the complete game in the ninth, but it was shut down by a leadoff double by Bryant who scored on an RBI single by Baez.
Kelly pitched brilliantly for eight innings, allowing four earned runs on six hits with six strikeouts and no walks. He only threw 19 balls.
“Obviously, frustrated that I couldn’t finish it myself,” Kelly said on coming out in the ninth. “But they were coming out super aggressive, swinging at pretty much everything, and I felt like I was able to execute well enough to get some early outs.”
The Diamondbacks’ starting pitcher got some help defensively from Kole Calhoun, who made some spectacular catches in right field that could be credited for saving a few runs.
Offensively, the D-backs were able to get some things cooking and had plenty of runners on base. Even though they were still unable to put together a big inning at the dish, they nibbled at Cubs pitchers all night.
They loaded the bases with no outs in the fourth on walks by Escobar and David Peralta and a double from Christian Walker, but they were only able to plate one run on a Pavin Smith RBI single.
Rojas doubled with one out in the fifth and was brought home by a Calhoun RBI single that put Arizona up by two. The D-backs proceeded to load the bases with two outs in the inning and once again left men on base as they could not produce any additional runs.
It was more of the same in the seventh inning as the D-backs loaded the bases with one out, but Calhoun hit into an inning-ending double play.
After Escobar walked to lead off the seventh, there was a scary moment when Walker was hit by a pitch that grazed his helmet, but luckily, he was uninjured. An intentional walk of Smith loaded the bases for the fourth consecutive inning.
Ahmed grounded out to the catcher that scored Escobar for one run in the inning, with another run scoring on a wild pitch by Cubs pitcher Rex Brothers.
Rojas led off the eight with this fourth walk of the night, and Escobar gave the D-backs the insurance runs they would need with a two-run home run that put Arizona up for good.
Despite all of those ducks on the pond for the D-backs, they were just 3-for-14 with runners in scoring position.
“We had a good game plan, and we were very patient,” Lovullo said on the offense.
“We had traffic on all day long. It was getting a little frustrating there. I think Eduardo [Escobar] had the key blow that broke open this game, but we had several opportunities built around a very patient approach and we just couldn’t get that big knock to break the game open.
“But we stuck with it, and we did enough to win the baseball game,” Lovullo said.
In the ninth, Joakim Soria entered the game in relief of Kelly and made things interesting once again. After one run had already scored in the inning, Soria gave up a two-out RBI double to Rafael Ortega that scored Baez and made it an uncomfortably close two-run game.
However, Soria ended the game and got the redemption he was seeking with a strikeout of Willson Contreras, the man who blew his save the previous night, for the D-backs first win of the second half.
“I don’t like to let guys, whether it’s a pitcher or an offensive player, sit on some tough days,” Lovullo said on turning to Soria one day after a blown save.
“I want them to digest it, think about it, get back out there as fast as they possibly can. But Joakim [Soria] was an easy bet to let come in this ballgame to finish it off.
“He’s been doing it a long time at a very, very high level, and I knew that he was going to be able to command his pitches,” Lovullo said. “I knew he was going to be able to game plan and execute, and you can see that he went out there and got the job done.”
The D-backs move on to a three-game series with the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday.
Caleb Smith will get his 10th start of the year. First pitch is scheduled for 6:40 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning 40 minutes earlier on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.
Smith will face the Pirates for the first time in his career. He has a 4.54 ERA, a 1.360 WHIP, and 81 strikeouts this season and is looking for his first win since April 29.