Why did Diamondbacks’ Torey Lovullo remove Merrill Kelly during Game 6 gem vs. Phillies?

Oct 23, 2023, 7:55 PM | Updated: Oct 24, 2023, 2:15 pm

PHILADELPHIA — Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Merrill Kelly was taken aback by manager Torey Lovullo holding out his hand in the dugout after a triumphant five innings during Game 6 of the NLCS on Monday.

Kelly struck out Philadelphia Phillies sluggers Kyle Schwarber and Bryce Harper in a 1-2-3 fifth inning with the D-backs up 4-1 with a chance to force a Game 7 at Citizens Bank Park.

His last eight batters hit into outs, but since he was at 90 pitches with a loaded up bullpen following Sunday’s off day, D-backs manager Torey Lovullo felt his starter did the job. TV cameras caught an aghast Kelly learning his day was done.

“I just don’t like ever coming out of a game,” Kelly said. “I think partly why I was upset right there was I was kind of just taken off guard by it. I just went through their top three, punched out two of them, 90 pitches through five, I’m thinking I’m for sure going back out for six.”

“It’s what I expect from Merrill. He is an unbelievable competitor, never wants to be taken out of a game until his tank is absolutely empty,” Lovullo said. “He was making statements to me that told me that he was capable of going back out there, but I’ve got to be the parent in the room and make a tough decision and hand it over to the bullpen that’s been very efficient.”

Kelly had to battle through traffic early after he walked Schwarber and Harper in the first inning but stranded them. The D-backs responded with a three-run frame started by back-to-back homers from Tommy Pham and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. The D-backs jumped ahead of the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park for the first time this series.

The veteran starter gave up a run on a couple hits in the second frame, and he was sitting at 48 pitches through two innings

From there, he was efficient enough to get through the fifth inning.

“In that situation in the NLCS Game 6, I want to be out there and help my team win,” Kelly said. “And that’s kind of my mentality. We had a conversation after that inning. He kind of broke down why it was that he took me out and the reason behind it, and at the end of the day, I trust my bullpen. It’s not about me not trusting who is coming in behind me. It’s just me trusting myself.”

The bullpen locked it down with four scoreless innings. Lovullo went to his A Team of Ryan Thompson, Andrew Saalfrank, Kevin Ginkel and Paul Sewald, none of whom threw more than 15 pitches.

Sewald credited Kelly getting out of the first inning unscathed as a major step toward winning the ballgame given Philadelphia’s hot starts in its three wins this series. The Phillies scored in the first inning of all three.

“They got on top of us the first few games here and this place got awfully loud,” Sewald said. “We needed to quiet these guys down. It was the first time they’ve sat I think for playoff games so I think that’s just a testament to how we got this game started.”

Kelly finished his five innings with three hits allowed and eight strikeouts. He forced swings and misses with all six pitches in his arsenal, using five of them to cap strikeouts.

He said he didn’t change his entire game plan after allowing four earned runs in Game 2 at Philadelphia, but he felt his execution improved. He allowed only three hits in Game 2, but they all left the ballpark.

He pitched around Schwarber early, walking him twice, before punching him out on a 3-2 curveball. He K’d Harper twice after walking him early.

“If the worst thing they get to me all day is a walk, I went in tonight being okay with that and trusting in between those guys I had the confidence to get the other guys out,” Kelly said. “I just really didn’t want to have those guys beat me, so if I did have a little bit of traffic on base, I just tried to trust my stuff and get some ground balls or quick outs after that.”

Kelly lowered his postseason ERA to 2.65. His run has included wins at Dodger Stadium and Citizens Bank Park.

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