ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Merrill’s day: Kelly’s ace outing propels D-backs in win over Nationals

May 5, 2023, 11:40 PM | Updated: 11:41 pm

Starting pitcher Merrill Kelly #29 of the Arizona Diamondbacks pitches against the Washington Natio...

Starting pitcher Merrill Kelly #29 of the Arizona Diamondbacks pitches against the Washington Nationals during the first inning at Chase Field on May 05, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — As Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo put it, Friday was Merrill Kelly’s day in a 3-1 victory over the Washington Nationals at Chase Field to open a 10-game homestand.

Kelly in seven frames sat down 10 hitters on strikes for the second time in his career. He did not surrender a baserunner in scoring position after the second inning, allowing only two singles in his final five frames.

His sinker, fastball, cutter, slider and curveball were used to finish off hitters on strikes, as he successfully got ahead in counts and only gave up one walk.

A solo home run in the first was the only blemish on Kelly’s line: 7 IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 10 K, 1 BB.

“I felt better than I have in a while,” Kelly said postgame. “My stuff was coming out of my hand a lot better, I felt more like myself. … The more I get my feet underneath me, the more I get game and live reps, I think the better I will be.”

Kelly has pitched at least six innings with one run allowed in three of four starts.

He started 17 of 25 at-bats with an 0-1 count, pounding the corners and letting his offspeed weapons drop off the table.

“He was locked in and making pitches all day,” Lovullo said. “Ahead of hitters, finishing off hitters, not letting counts linger, easy outs, everything you want from your starting pitcher.”

Kelly exited with a 3-1 lead, and the bullpen locked it down with a pair of 1-2-3 frames. Miguel Castro produced an economical 11-pitch eighth, and Andrew Chafin struck out two in the ninth for his fifth save.

The pitching was helped by another stellar effort from the league’s leading defense in outs above average entering the night (13).

Third baseman Josh Rojas continued his stellar play at third base, putting a three-strikeout night behind him with the glove.

He snatched up everything his way, including this backhanded diving play on a ball in the eighth:

Lovullo said Rojas — who started the game tied for the MLB lead with six outs above average — is playing Gold Glove-caliber defense.

“He helped us win a baseball game defensively. … He did not let the offense leak into the defense,” Lovullo said. “It’s clean footwork, it’s great arm action, glove is in the right place, he’s locked in defensively.”

The D-backs won the game with only seven hits while finishing 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.

Corbin Carroll, in his first start since April 29 after banging his knee on the wall at Coors Field, smacked a fastball over the wall in left-center field during the third inning to tie the game 1-1. It was his fifth long ball of the season.

The Diamondbacks took the lead in an unconventional fourth inning, but one in which their ability to put the ball in play paid off.

Dominic Fletcher led off with a single, followed by a Gabriel Moreno infield hit thanks to a throwing error by starting pitcher Josiah Gray.

Alek Thomas was unsuccessful in breaking out of his offensive funk with a strikeout, but Geraldo Perdomo — hitting ninth — worked a walk to load the bases.

Rojas chopped a ball to Nationals shortstop CJ Abrams, and he was caught between stepping on second or throwing to first.

Perdomo busted to second base and beat Abrams to the bag. A run scored, and Ketel Marte stepped in with the bases still loaded and one out. He lined a ball to left, deep enough for Moreno to score and give Arizona insurance.

The inning ended with a baserunning blunder, as Rojas took off from first while Perdomo stayed at second, leading to a rundown.

The D-backs squandered chances to take a more comfortable lead, but Arizona played a clean game while Washington did not, which proved to be the difference.

SETTING THE TONE

Kelly’s gem will lead into starts by youngsters Tommy Henry, Ryne Nelson and Brandon Pfaadt.

Lovullo said he did not want to put extra pressure on his top two starters Zac Gallen and Kelly, but he noted that their days are very important to Arizona’s success.

Kelly said he thought about the youth of the rotation after his start Friday, explaining that teams look to veterans to set the tone.

“I’m not typically one that goes and gives advice on my own, but these guys know I’m always open to any type of conversation, any type of question,” Kelly said. “I’m here for these guys.”

UP NEXT

Game 2 of the three-game set will be Saturday night at 5:10 p.m.

Henry is pitching against Washington lefty MacKenzie Gore.

Catch the game on 98.7, ArizonaSports.com and the Arizona Sports app.

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