Merrill Kelly more focused on Diamondbacks, pitch variety this spring

Feb 28, 2024, 7:40 AM

Merrill Kelly...

Merrill Kelly #29 of the Arizona Diamondbacks delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins in the first inning at Target Field on August 04, 2023 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

(Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

Merrill Kelly naturally has a more focused perspective during this spring training compared to last. And the Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher wants to use that to have a wider focus on his pitch mix heading into the 2024 season.

Kelly spent much of last spring prepping and playing in the World Baseball Classic, something that he and the D-backs ultimately believed had something to do with the starting right-hander’s rocky start to the regular season.

But in 2024, there is comfort with a defined role and less on his plate.

“This year is different for me coming into spring training than it has been probably in my whole career. I know my role on the team, I know my spot on the team,” he told Arizona Sports’ Wolf & Luke on Tuesday.

It wasn’t untrue last year. But now it’s getting more time to touch up his pitches, and first on the docket would be refining a slider that he began introducing more heavily last season.

“I really want to get the slider more consistent,” he said. “Showed it a little bit last year but I think it could be a real weapon.”

Kelly threw sliders 5.5% of the time last season after hardly registering the pitch prior, according to FanGraphs. It added to an already diverse toolbox that begins with a well-locating fastball, a timely changeup and a cutter.

The righty now has a full spring to work on the marginal pitches and to prepare for a long run of a season.

And his goal is to be ready for his first start — Kelly hopes he can begin the season on a better note without the additional commitment of pitching for the United States in the World Baseball Classic.

He got through only 3.2 innings and threw 72 pitches in his Arizona debut last season and then gave up four runs — two earned — in his second start, also against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“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,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said after that April 6 start. “We can prepare him a little differently.”

Of course, it went just fine from there.

Kelly made 30 starts in the regular season to finish with a 3.29 ERA and 1.19 WHIP, then was a rock with a 2.25 ERA and 3-1 record in four postseason games during the Diamondbacks’ World Series run.

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