D-backs learning from World Baseball Classic after Merrill Kelly’s mixed start

Apr 7, 2023, 6:17 PM | Updated: Apr 9, 2023, 8:38 am

Merrill Kelly #29 of the Arizona Diamondbacks reacts to an out of David Peralta #6 of the Los Angel...

Merrill Kelly #29 of the Arizona Diamondbacks reacts to an out of David Peralta #6 of the Los Angeles Dodgers during the fourth inning at Dodger Stadium on March 31, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Manager Torey Lovullo remembers starter Merrill Kelly telling him that pitching in the World Baseball Classic was one of the best baseball experiences he’s ever had.

But weeks later, the righty has grinded through his first two outings of the regular season with mixed results.

Kelly walked eight hitters over his first 9.1 frames and allowed four earned runs, all of which came in his second start Thursday against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Arizona’s season opener.

“I’ve definitely dealt with bouts of inconsistency throughout my career without the different build up, but I wouldn’t take it off the table that it’s leaking in from the preparation to the season,” Kelly said postgame on Thursday. 

Lovullo responded to the comments on Friday, saying he supports Kelly, who is not one to mince words.

“I know he’s probably frustrated,” Lovullo said.

The manager also noted he’d recommend players play in the WBC if given the chance, as he has been a major advocate of the tournament that captured the attention of baseball fans around the world.

But there are lessons to take away from Kelly’s experience.

“If we do have a pitcher we send there we’d have to get him stretched out a little bit longer, a little bit further and bring him along a little bit more,” Lovullo said. “We can prepare him a little differently.”

Kelly threw 97 pitches in two starts for Team USA, as he was pulled in the second inning of the championship game against Japan. He also started a tuneup game against the Angels before the tournament began.

Lovullo said he understands U.S. manager Mark DeRosa had to do what he felt was right to win a one-game championship, but Kelly’s short outing was not what Arizona had in mind.

So for future instances, Lovullo said getting his WBC-bound arms stretched out earlier in spring training could be a remedy.

“Spring training is a totally different animal,” Lovullo said. “We can stretch guys out, get them to 75-80 pitches and then maybe turn them loose for the WBC.”

Kelly threw 74 pitches in his season debut — also against the Dodgers — and 96 pitches on Thursday.

The veteran felt he was fighting himself mechanically at points and was not feeling locked in. He admitted difficult stretches have occurred throughout his career with normal springs, too.

Plus, the start of the season for every starting pitcher is an adjustment this year with rule changes highlighted by the pitch clock. Lovullo told Arizona Sports’ Burns & Gambo on Friday he’s noticed pitchers around the league laboring while trying to adjust to the new tempo.

The sample size this regular season is tiny for Kelly, and Arizona is 1-1 in his starts. He was a workhorse last year with 200.1 innings, and the D-backs will count on that production once again this season.

Kelly is in line to take the hill again at Chase Field Tuesday against the Milwaukee Brewers.

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