D-backs’ Merrill Kelly preparing to start for Team USA in World Baseball Classic

Feb 20, 2023, 12:15 PM
Merrill Kelly #29 of the Arizona Diamondbacks warms up in the bullpen prior to the MLB game against...
Merrill Kelly #29 of the Arizona Diamondbacks warms up in the bullpen prior to the MLB game against the San Francisco Giants at Chase Field on July 25, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Kelsey Grant/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kelsey Grant/Getty Images)

Diamondbacks RHP Merrill Kelly is the lone Arizona representative on Team USA’s World Baseball Classic roster, and he could see a significant role.

Kelly told MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM that he was told last year he would be a starter, so that is how he is preparing.

“I haven’t heard much as far as when I’m pitching or how I will be used,” Kelly said. “When it first came up when the opportunity presented itself … the team wanted me to start to that’s what I’m operating on unless told otherwise.”

Team USA recently lost two starting pitchers for injury-related reasons in Nestor Cortes of the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers star Clayton Kershaw. San Francisco Giants RHP Logan Webb also committed to playing last year but is not on the roster.

Kelly was a workhorse for Arizona in 2022, reaching his goal of 200 innings pitched in a career season. He led the majors with 33 starts after signing a three-year extension with the D-backs in the spring and had a 3.37 ERA.

He will have to ramp up quicker this year, as Team USA will be thrust in highly competitive games starting on March 11 against Great Britain at Chase Field. The squad will have two exhibition contests on March 8-9 to prepare against the Giants and Los Angeles Angels, respectively.

U.S. manager Mark DeRosa has said multiple times he will do what he can to win the event while keeping communication open with clubs about their pitchers.

“I will not jeopardize any of these guys potentially getting hurt to try to win this thing,” DeRosa told Jomboy Media’s Chris Rose. “I am well aware of trying to return these guys healthy to the parent club.”

There are pitch count limits in the WBC, as starters can only go 65 pitches per game in the first round, 80 in the quarterfinals and 95 pitches in the semifinals and final with designated rest time in between.

In the 2017 tournament, Marcus Stroman was the only U.S. pitcher to throw more than eight innings at 15.1 over three starts.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said at Cactus League Media Day last week that clubs have been less resistant to letting their stars play for their countries this time, noting that WBC teams and pro clubs can agree on ways to utilize players that also assist in their preparation for the regular season.

D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said on Wednesday that the team is proud of Kelly and others in the organization for participating and representing their countries.

Lovullo felt the experience could help Kelly prepare for the long haul, as the D-backs look to continue momentum from last year’s 22-win improvement.

“I know these players are going to be ramping up a little bit quicker,” Lovullo said. “We have most of them here right now, knowing that they’re going to be stepping away for a little while. There’s a little extra time in spring training.

“We’re not going to miss a beat. We’re going to miss having them around because we like having around, but the fact they’re going to be jumping into some competition is going to be good for their their readiness for the start of the season.”

Fellow D-backs Alek Thomas and Ketel Marte will play for Mexico and the Dominican Republic, respectively.

The tournament runs through March 21, and the first pitch of the regular season is set for March 30.

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