The Arizona Diamondbacks were left to navigate most of 2020 without starting pitcher Merrill Kelly.
Playing in just five games before having to undergo thoracic outlet surgery to remove a blood clot in his shoulder, Kelly was on the outside looking in as Arizona finished the year at 25-35.
But after taking most of last year and the offseason to recover, it appears the former Sun Devil is on the right track to pick up where he left off.
“I specifically honed in on him today and watched his bullpen. I think several of those limitations have been removed,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said via Zoom on Thursday. “Getting him up on a bullpen where he can throw all his pitches and the amount of pitches he had thrown tells me he’s in a really good spot.
“Wasn’t the first time I’ve seen his bullpen. I’ve been watching them over the past couple of weeks and he’s thrown the ball very well. He’s spinning breaking balls, he’s driving fastballs to both sides of the plate and throwing some quality changeups. He’s in a good spot.”
In the five games Kelly played in 2020, the pitcher finished with a 3-2 record to go along with a 2.59 ERA. He struck out 29 batters and walked nine. Last season was supposed to be a coming out party of sorts for Kelly, who went 13-14 the season prior and showed signs he was ready to take that next step as an MLB pitcher.
Instead of sulking, Kelly went to work after his surgery, using the D-backs training staff and talking with fellow players who underwent the same procedures to prepare himself for 2021.
“I got to hand it to our staff. … They’ve taken great care of me,” Kelly said via Zoom. “This process has been much smoother and much more streamlined than I could have ever anticipated. The way I feel right now, the way I felt going into camp and just these first couple days, getting off the mound for the first time on ‘real bullpens’ in spring training, it feels good.
“I don’t anticipate anything popping up. My mentality right now is I’m just a normal player again. I’m just approaching spring training as usual and just trying to prepare for the season rather than thinking about what happened or how I feel. … I’m just looking forward to kinda getting going.”
Kelly had to put a lot of work in behind closed doors last season with the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing. He may have been away from the team more than he would have liked but the effort he exuded hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“He deserves so much of this credit as he’s walked through some really unknown territory,” Lovullo said. “When he was in my office last year … it was determined he was gonna have to step out and get this procedure done. He assured me that he would be back. He assured me that he would do everything in his power to heal and then rehab and be ready for spring training.
“He held up his end of the bargain. I told him that. I was really proud of him. There was a lot of unknown and he got after it. To see him come full circle and see where he’s at right now, we’re really proud of him. He should be proud of himself too.”
Kelly figures to return to the mound as one of the team’s best pitchers, filling in a starting rotation that includes Madison Bumgarner and Zac Gallen.