What made Diamondbacks’ Merrill Kelly so effective in World Series gem vs. Rangers
Oct 29, 2023, 12:24 AM | Updated: 1:26 am
ARLINGTON, TEXAS — Manager Torey Lovullo once again had to answer questions about pulling starter Merrill Kelly on a night he led the Arizona Diamondbacks to a critical postseason win on the road.
Lovullo removed Kelly after he became the first starting pitcher since 2019 to throw seven innings in a World Series game, doing so in a 9-1 win at the Texas Rangers in Game 2 to even the set.
The manager had a similar sounding answer compared to Kelly’s Game 6 road performance against the Philadelphia Phillies in which he allowed one earned run in five innings.
“I just felt like he had done his job,” Lovullo said. “It was seven up-downs. It was a big ask. There was a ton of emotion that goes into every World Series game. I looked him up and down. I looked him over, and I felt like he was getting a little fatigued.
“It was a little bit more of an agreeing type of conversation that we had. And he understood where I was coming from. Typically you’ve got to tell Merrill why. If there’s buy-in he’ll accept it. If not, he’ll continue to hammer away at you.”
Merrill Kelly has 9 K’s through 7 IP tonight against the Rangers.
He joins Curt Schilling (Gms. 4 & 7 of 2001 World Series) & Randy Johnson (Gm. 2 of 2001 World Series) as the only Diamondbacks pitchers with at least 9 K’s in a World Series game. pic.twitter.com/9RoVRuVVE0
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 29, 2023
Kelly had just struck out five of the last six hitters he’d face when he started to get the hugs and butt taps in the dugout.
His command and efficiency allowed him to go deep into the ballgame and save the back end of the bullpen. He was at 20 pitches through two innings and 36 through three.
Kelly said very simply that he executed his plan very well, as he attacked with 18 first-pitch strikes to 24 batters. Texas’ quartet of Marcus Semien, Corey Seager, Evan Carter and Adolis Garcia combined 1-for-12 with six strikeouts.
“If you look at the Philly game, at least Game 2, I think that’s where I got beat is I just didn’t execute well enough,” Kelly said postgame. “My focus since then was just purely pitch execution, trying to take one pitch at a time — almost the feel of this is the biggest pitch of the game. And then once that pitch is done, have the same mindset going forward as far as the next pitch.”
A Mitch Garver solo shot off a Kelly low-and-in sinker was the only Rangers run of the game, and a rare moment of hard contact from the home club.
Kelly allowed three hits on Saturday: the home run, a jam-shot flare by Carter and an infield hit. That’s it.
He also did not walk a batter after putting three runners on base in each of his last two starts.
“He’s a balance-feel guy,” Lovullo said. “When he gets his alignment it’s really good, that’s what you did see. I did notice the strike outs, I noticed there were no walks. And I felt like, probably between pitches 16 and 20, I think he was at 20 after two, that it was going real good for him.”
He threw 53 fastballs between the four-seamer, cutter and sinker. The Rangers swung at 17 and put five in play and stared at 19 for strikes. Five of Kelly’s nine punch outs were looking, as he was painting the corners.
Merrill Kelly, Painting. 🖌️🎨
8th and 9th Ks. pic.twitter.com/lAUjiCaZbl
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 29, 2023
The changeup, which has improved each year since 2021 as a put-away pitch that produces whiffs, was the one pitch Rangers hitters put in play regularly with eight of 22. Their exit velocity was 79.1 mph off the bat against his changeup.
“I go into every game trying to dot every single pitch I throw,” Kelly said. “I want to throw it right on the edge the best I can to my ability every single time I go out on that mound and every single bat that I have. Just obviously some games it works out better than others.”
Kelly has three wins in four postseason starts, all of which have come on the road. If the World Series goes long, he is lined up for a Game 6 back in Texas.
“Game on the line, back up against the wall, you want that guy to go into battle,” first baseman Christian Walker said.