What’s next for Merrill Kelly, D-backs after blood clot diagnosis

Jun 27, 2023, 6:48 PM | Updated: Jun 28, 2023, 6:38 pm

Merrill Kelly Diamondbacks...

Merrill Kelly #29 of the Arizona Diamondbacks pitches against the Oakland Athletics in the bottom of the first inning at RingCentral Coliseum on May 15, 2023 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Arizona Diamondbacks starter Merrill Kelly woke up on Sunday, the day after he started against the San Francisco Giants, with swelling in his right leg.

It had been sore before his start, but he was not bothered while pitching.

Considering Kelly experienced discomfort without getting hurt during the game and his history — he had a blood clot in his shoulder in 2020 — the veteran went to the hospital in San Francisco and received an ultrasound.

He was diagnosed with a small clot in his leg, and the D-backs put him on the 15-day injured list with calf inflammation.

“I think we caught this at the right time,” manager Torey Lovullo said on Tuesday. “I don’t want to put a timetable on it. It’ll depend on on how he continues to progress, but he’s already feeling better.”

Kelly stayed in San Francisco for an extra night before heading back to Arizona on Monday.

“The fact that I wasn’t rushed to the hospital like last time, the fact that nobody’s telling me to kind of sit and stay gives me a little bit of peace of mind,” Kelly said Wednesday.

Lovullo was hopeful Kelly won’t be down much longer than 15 days and compared the situation to that of Ian Kennedy last season. Kennedy had a small blood clot in his right calf and went on the IL for 16 days before returning to the Arizona bullpen.

Kelly said he called Kennedy after the diagnosis to pick his brain.

Lovullo explained he expects Kelly to continue playing catch while on the IL, and whether he will get a rehab start or not has yet to be determined.

Kelly said his focus is on health first and he’ll have a better outlook on the next few weeks soon.

He is on blood thinners and will have another ultrasound next week.

“Obviously, I’m in a rush to get back but I’m not in too much of a rush,” Kelly said. “My main priority is obviously to make sure that this is taken care of and gone first and foremost.”

Kelly has put together an excellent season with a 3.22 ERA in 16 starts.

“It sucks, for sure,” first baseman Christian Walker said Tuesday. “We got a lot of confidence in Merrill. He seems to have pretty good energy all things considered. Hopefully it’s not too much time. First and foremost, he’s feeling better and doing better.”

In the meantime, the D-backs will have to maneuver at least two weeks without their workhorse No. 2 behind Zac Gallen. The rotation, besides Kelly and Gallen, has struggled at times although youngsters Tommy Henry and Ryne Nelson are coming off some of their best work. 

Henry has thrown 13.2 innings with three earned runs over his last two outings, while Nelson tossed seven frames of one-run ball on Sunday.

Gallen pitched on Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Rays with veteran Zach Davies slated for Wednesday. Lovullo said Wednesday that RHP Brandon Pfaadt will start Thursday in place of Kelly.

Pfaadt has had a strong bounce back for Triple-A Reno since getting sent down by Arizona on May 27 after a rocky first venture in the majors.

The D-backs’ No. 3 prospect has thrown 25.2 innings with nine earned runs (3.16 ERA), five walks and 28 strikeouts since his option.

“I told him to reflect back and see that you just don’t come up here and dominate right away,” pitching coach Brent Strom said after Arizona optioned Pfaadt. “I think for the first time in his career, he got his ears pinned back a little bit and had never experienced that before. … I think it’d be better when he comes back.”

Where are the D-backs with Joe Mantiply?

The D-backs optioned Mantiply among the roster moves, which also involved recalling Kevin Ginkel and 21-year-old Justin Martinez from Triple-A Reno.

Mantiply gave up eight runs in eight innings following his second return from the injured list (hamstring) this season.

Lovullo said he and Mantiply had an instructive conversation, with the veteran taking to heart what he needed to do to get back.

“I think it’s a combination of things,” Lovullo said. “I think he got hurt twice, never got on a run, never got into a full flow or full spring training. We were trying to give him all that time, but out of out of a need, we got him back here and he just never got on that run. So what’s next for him? He’s he’s got to go down and perform.”

Welcome to the Show

Martinez, now the youngest player on the active roster, adds a punch to the D-backs’ bullpen with a triple-digit fastball and splitter that has worked as his put-away pitch.

He signed as an international free agent from the Dominican Republic in 2018 and has already overcome Tommy John surgery in 2021.

“Mentally, it’s been a very tough journey but thankfully with the support from my family, my friends I have been able to get here and am looking to stay here,” Martinez said through a translator.

Martinez has not started a game in the minors since the surgery but returned to the hill in 2022 as a reliever.

The D-backs added him to the 40-man roster this past offseason to avoid the Rule 5 Draft, and Lovullo will be keeping a close eye on his command.

“It’s power stuff, I know it’s 100, 101, 102 and I love that power,” Lovullo said. “But it’s about throwing it where you want to and what are you going to do off of that. That’s the most important thing and that’s what he’s been doing very well lately in Reno.”

Martinez echoed that controlling the zone will be key to his success.

The 6-foot-3 hurler has had trouble limiting walks at points in his career, including this year when he walked 10 hitters in his first five innings.

But he’s racked up punch outs and scoreless innings over the past month-plus with one earned run allowed over his last 23.1 frames with 31 strikeouts.

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