Having missed all of September 2020 due to a blood clot in his shoulder, D-backs starter Merrill Kelly returning to the mound in a regular-season game was a sight for sore-eyed Arizona fans.
The 32-year-old right-hander went 4-plus innings, allowing three runs on five hits and three walks to go along with four strikeouts in a 4-2 loss to the San Diego Padres on Friday night at Petco Park. Kelly faced 18 batters in his first start of 2021, throwing 56 of 94 pitches for strikes.
“Not great, not terrible. Felt pretty good in the beginning, felt pretty sharp,” Kelly said of his outing postgame via Zoom. “Just too many pitches early in the game. … Obviously not going to be going too deep into games when you’re throwing that many pitches early.
“The first one — would’ve probably liked to have gotten that pitch back from (Eric Hosmer), but other than that, wasn’t terrible. … There were a lot of pitches I made that just weren’t competitive enough. Kind of just picking around the edges instead of keeping the ball on the plate, trying to force contact.”
The D-backs weren’t able to muster much offensively with Padres starter Blake Snell on the bump. The lefty didn’t allow a run and struck out eight over 4.2 innings of work (86 pitches, 53 strikes) in his first outing for his new club. Arizona was also 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position on the night.
“At the end of the night when you hold a team to four runs, you have expectations to win that baseball game,” Lovullo said postgame via Zoom. “I think there was a lot of damage control by our guys. We had several innings that we executed defensively and knocked down some base runners.
“We had several key pitches that were made at the right time that limited the big innings and gave us a chance to play catchup. Offensively we just couldn’t get the big hit. We left a lot of runners on base the first couple innings. Going back to their pitcher being able to make pitches at the right time in the right situation is the difference for me.”
The first frame of the new season for Kelly was a smooth one-two-three inning, including striking out Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr.
After San Diego first baseman Eric Hosmer and right fielder Wil Myers reached on back-to-back infield singles in the bottom of the second, Kelly walked Jake Cronenworth to load up the bases with no outs. Luis Campusano then flew out to shallow left, setting up Jurickson Profar for an RBI sac-fly to deep right field to give the Padres a 1-0 lead. Kelly was able to get out of the second-inning jam and stranded two runners by striking out San Diego starter Blake Snell on the very next at-bat.
But the right-hander found himself in trouble once again in the bottom half of the third. After getting Tommy Pham to fly out to left for the first out of the inning, Kelly walked Tatis and Manny Machado. Luckily for the D-backs, Tatis got thrown out trying to steal third by Arizona catcher Carson Kelly — the first of two Padres caught trying to take third on the night — for the second out of the inning before Hosmer hit a two-run big fly to right field to give the Padres a 3-0 lead.
Merrill Kelly managed to pitch into the fifth inning, but a second consecutive leadoff double was enough for manager Torey Lovullo to bring in Yoan Lopez from the bullpen.
Whether it was good defense by the Diamondbacks or ambitious baserunning by San Diego, the D-backs were able to throw out three Padres on the basepaths. The first two were by Kelly — who caught two runners trying to steal third in back-to-back innings — followed by Josh Rojas, who was able to cut down a run at the plate in the bottom of the sixth.
The Diamondbacks carried that momentum over, as Arizona was able to get on the board in the top of the seventh frame.
With two outs and no one on in the top of the seventh, D-backs outfielder Tim Locastro got on with a single and Ketel Marte brought both of them in with a two-run homer to left field to cut the deficit to one.
“He’s in a strong hitting position. He’s making great decisions on the baseball,” Lovullo said of Marte. “He’s behind the ball and making great contact. He’s worked hard to make these past two days happen. …
“The ball he hit the other way tonight was pretty amazing. Looked like he barely swung at the ball and the ball jumped off his bat. He knew the direction in which he was trying to hit the baseball, he attacked that way and had a very productive night.”
But that momentum would be short-lived, as Hosmer continued his hot start to the 2021 campaign with an RBI-single in the bottom of the seventh to extend the Padres’ lead to 4-2.
“Right now he’s just locked in,” Kelly said of Hosmer. “It seems like he’s getting his pitches and he’s not missing them. He’s balanced, he covers the plate pretty well.
“The first pitch I threw him I thought was a really good backdoor cutter and he did a good job of at least staying on it to put it in play, make something happen and he ended up beating it out. He’s just not missing pitches right now I feel is the biggest thing.”
San Diego closer Mark Melancon would come on to get the save, his second in as many nights.
The D-backs will look to get their first win of the season on Saturday in Game 3 of the four-game set.
First pitch is set for 5:40 p.m. Catch all the action on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.