When you’re fighting for a spot in the rotation, the last thing is to take a tentative approach. That’s the reality facing Arizona Diamondbacks’ right-hander Merritt Kelly, who played college baseball in the area at Arizona State.
Kelly, in camp after spending the last three years pitching in South Korea, is in the mix for a back-end position in the rotation and remains in competition with Luke Weaver and Nick Green for one of the final two spots behind right-hander Zack Greinke, the likely opening day starter, left-hander Robbie Ray and righty Zack Godley.
After a miserable start in his opening assignment, in which was he tagged with three earned runs in 1/3 of an inning, Kelly seems to repeat the maladies in his second start. Against the Kansas City Royals on March 5, Kelly lasted only into the second and again allowed three runs, and two were earned. More importantly, he clearly struggled and a 28-pitch count in the first inning merely prolonged his agony.
If Kelly, who will be 31 this October, has difficulty out of the gate, he appears to be the first to recognize the dilemma. Admitting he was too cautious against Cleveland and Kansas City during his initial two spring outings, Kelly says he about to address significant concerns and right his sinking ship.
“I need to attack hitters from pitch one,” he told Fancred after the Kansas City outing. “In the last couple of starts, I got away from that a little bit. Maybe I’ve given the hitters too much credit rather than attacking from the start.”
What appears to exacerbate Kelly’s precarious position as a potential starter is the nature of the competition. With Weaver and Green off to good camp starts, the quality of those in the direct line is accentuated.
“The competition is tough and it’s good,” he added. “That’s part of the frustration in my first two outings. There are many good arms on camp and makes that for friendly competition. At the same time, it’s competition and I respect that. That’s why I think my first two outings have been a little frustrating. They are not up to par of where I want them to be and know that I’m here to earn a spot, just like everybody else.”
In the direct line is Green, a Rule 5 selection form the New York Yankees, and also in the hunt for a precious rotation spot. In his first two outings this spring, Green was nearly perfect and allowed no runs in five innings. Against the Royals on March 5, Green appeared to miss with high with his breaking pitches and fell behind hitters. Initially, he walked the first hitter faced Whit Merrifield on four pitches and then proceeded to surrender two runs in 1.2 innings of work.
Afterward, manager Torey Lovullo told Fancred all pitchers will experience good moments and bad moments, but from what Green has displayed, there is little worry Green will be dropped from rotation consideration at this point of spring training.
“There were some misses from Nick that we have not seen,” Lovullo said. “He’s been pretty much picture perfect up to this point. We know something like that was going to happen to every pitcher. But he did a good job of slowing the game down and making pitches when he had to do that.”
Plus, the way Lovullo used Green, a starter by trade, in relief may have triggered an odd sense of circumstances.
“I don’t know how often he has come out of the bullpen,” Lovullo added. “I’m sure it’s a new thing and came in with runners on base. It’s a conditioned response that we want to practice and get a feel for him coming out of the bullpen. I know it wasn’t perfect, but I know he’ll get better.”
CAMP NOTES …
The worst fear of a pitcher was realized Wednesday when the Diamondbacks announced reliever Silvino Bracho will undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
Out of options to the minors, Bracho was fighting for a bullpen spot and Lovullo told Fancred earlier this week, “the worst part of this equation was he was throwing the ball extremely well. He was on a path to do exactly wanted he wanted to do and what he was challenged to do.”
With Bracho out until the 2020 All-Star game, at the least, that leaves to a clear path for others.
One could be lefty Robby Scott, who may have an added advantage because lefty T. J. McFarland is currently out with shoulder inflammation. Though an MRI on McFarland showed no structural damage, McFarland, who appeared in 47 games last season out of the bullpen, may not be ready for opening day.
Scott, who traded to Arizona by the Boston Red Sox for cash consideration last December, spent the 2018 season with AAA Pawtucket. What could make Scott attractive is his sweeping, side-arm delivery which causes left-handed hitters concern.