Diamondbacks’ Merrill Kelly feels on track with slower spring training ramp up

Mar 8, 2024, 6:19 PM

Merrill Kelly...

Merrill Kelly during Arizona Diamondbacks spring training at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Arizona Sports Photo/Alex Weiner)

(Arizona Sports Photo/Alex Weiner)

SCOTTSDALE — For the first time since his Game 2 gem during the World Series, Merrill Kelly was in game action for the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday at Salt River Fields.

Kelly retired all six Chicago Cubs batters he faced with 21 pitches through two innings, jumping in the bullpen to get his pitch count up to 35 as he builds toward Opening Day.

He feels on track with a slower ramp up this spring alongside Zac Gallen, a welcome strategy for Kelly given his unique 2023 from the World Baseball Classic to the Fall Classic.

“I’ve enjoyed it. I don’t feel like I’m behind the eight ball,” Kelly said. “I’m getting ready for September, October again rather than the first part of the season or spring training, to be exact.

“Obviously the first games, every game matters. Not taking anything away from those, but I’ve enjoyed kind of the slow ramp up, especially with how many innings that we both went last year. But I got nothing but confidence we’ll be ready.”

Manager Torey Lovullo said Kelly will work up to around 75 pitches by his final spring start to be ready for the first weekend of games that count against the Colorado Rockies.

Kelly’s outing followed Gallen’s spring debut Thursday in which he tossed 36 pitches in two innings, as they are tracking to start the first two games of the season.

“We count on both guys to go out there and get that quality work in,” Lovullo said. “I was excited to see what they did. They’re exactly where, in my opinion, where they should be right now.”

Kelly said he shut himself down for a section of the offseason, which was different from when he’d throw two or three times per week in past years.

The 35-year-old told Arizona Sports’ Wolf & Luke his focus this spring was getting his body ready for Opening Day and developing his slider, the latter of which was displayed early in his outing.

The veteran struck out two in a 1-2-3 first inning, punching out Christopher Morel swinging at a slider below the zone before dicing up Michael Busch with a couple painted fastballs.

He allowed a pair of deep fly outs before ending his day with strike three called against David Bote. He worked in six pitches, and the velocity and spin rates were all comparable to last season.

“The second strikeout was a backdoor cutter,” Kelly said. “I didn’t throw too many of them, wanted to just work on fastball command, drop a couple curveballs in there and we got a strikeout on the slider so I was happy to see that.”

He said the slider can be hit or miss at this point as he continues to work it — plus his changeup will require more attention as it is not where he feels it usually is at this point, perhaps due to his increased focus on the slider.

“I think the shape of it isn’t as consistent as I’d like, so sometimes I feel myself trying to create a little too much within the delivery,” Kelly said of the slider. “But the ones I throw well, I’m happy with.”

Walking out for his first start of spring, Kelly said he had flashbacks to 2019 when the 30-year-old rookie back from Korea was in a much different place in his career.

Kelly reached new heights last year, being able to represent the United States in the WBC, putting together his best statistical season despite missing a month with a blood clot and excelling in the postseason with a 2.25 ERA in four starts.

“The league in general is definitely a ‘What have you done for me lately’ type,” Kelly said. “What I did in the World Series was great. It was a lot of fun. I’m proud of myself for doing it. But I think if I let that creep into my mentality moving forward, I think I’m probably doing myself an injustice.”

Kevin Ginkel debuts

For different reasons than Kelly, 2023 breakout reliever Kevin Ginkel also made his 2024 spring debut on Friday, allowing a solo shot and three ground outs in an inning of work.

Ginkel’s camp halted early due to elbow soreness, but he has been working back up in the bullpen and live batting practice sessions. He feels there is time for him to reach to his desired fitness before Opening Day.

“I feel like with my health, it feels good now,” Ginkel said. “I feel like just getting a few days of easing into camp I guess was nice. I need to play a little catchup here, but I feel like come the season, I should be ready to go and ready to rock.”

He was getting to 95 mph on the fastball and 87 mph on the slider, right on par with last season.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s scare

The D-backs removed outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. from the game after he was hit in the left hand/wrist area by a Kyle Hendricks sinker. Gurriel let out a yell audible from the press box as he dropped the bat, but after the game he said he was fine.

The HBP scared him a bit, but the veteran said no X-rays would be needed. Lovullo called it a left hand contusion that could keep him out of Saturday’s lineup but not much beyond that.

Make that two D-backs starters — Christian Walker — to suffer hand contusions via hit-by-pitches this spring.

Diamondbacks spring training notes

– Randal Grichuk jumped in the batter’s box on the back fields against pitchers Corbin Martin and Ricky Karcher, another step in his progression from ankle surgery. Lovullo said Grichuk has not yet started base running or fielding. When the offseason free agent signee is ready for game action, he will start as a designated hitter.

– Lovullo felt Martin looked good with a mid-90s fastball and a handful of effective breaking balls, one he used to strikeout Alek Thomas looking. The next step for Martin, who missed all of 2023 with a lat tear, is to pitch in games. Lovullo has said Martin was on track to make the MLB team out of camp last year before the injury, and the right-hander remains in the mix to crack the bullpen.

– Lovullo said minor league free agent signee Elvis Andrus is likely to make his debut Sunday at the Los Angeles Dodgers. Andrus is a 15-year veteran who entered the backup shortstop fold this week. He took live BP on Friday. “Live timing is tough,” Lovullo said. “The last thing I want to do is he come in here and rush and get banged up. So the medical team has been recommending several days, and we’re at that point right now.”

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