Can Merrill Kelly remain healthy for the stretch run?

PHOENIX – For a team struggling to keep their collective heads above water, the Arizona Diamondbacks enter a precarious portion of their season. With the underachieving San Diego Padres on the horizon, the Diamondbacks’ once lofty position continues to drift into the abyss.

That situation appeared exacerbated Wednesday night when Merrill Kelly, one-half of a reliable two-man portion of the notation, left in the seventh inning of a game against the Los Angles Dodgers in Chase Field. Upon reaching a 2-0 count to Chris Taylor leading off the inning, catcher Jose Herrera waved to the Diamondbacks dugout, and immediately manager Torey Lovullo went to reliever Kevin Ginkel.

Kelly exited with a cramp in his right leg and after the game told reporters this is recurring. Pitching for SK Wyvers in the Korean Baseball League (from 2015-2018), Kelly said cramps were frequent at that time and learned to adjust. This latest bout Wednesday night, he assured, was minor and will not prevent his next start (Tuesday against the Rockies).

“My calf started to cramp up on the warm-up pitches and I tried to get through it,” he said after 83 pitches and a stellar six shutout innings. “On the second pitch to Taylor, the hammy just grabbed me. I basically knew I was done at that point.”

The scoreless outing was important to Kelly and that was because of his past history against the Dodgers. Coming into his Wednesday start, the 34-year-old was 0-10 and a 5.45 ERA in 14 previous starts facing L. A.

Though the Dodgers put runners on base, Kelly was aided by double plays in consecutive innings. In the third, James Outman grounded into a 4-6-3 twin killing and ditto for David Peralta in the fourth. In the fifth, the Dodgers had runners on first and second and one out but Kelly retired Miguel Rojas on a liner to first and Mookie Betts grounded out to end that frame.

“It’s no mystery how I fared against the Dodgers, and it has not been very good,” Kelly said. “(On Wednesday night), I wanted to come out and be aggressive. I wanted to assert the fact that I was not going to shy away from them. Wanted to let them know I was being aggressive and wait for our offense to get going. In the first couple of innings, I felt good and felt the fast ball was coming out pretty well.”

The leg cramp raised a few red flags and that was because of maladies earlier in the season. On June 27, Kelly was shut down with right calf inflammation and remained on the Injured Reserve List until July 25.

With the no-decision Wednesday night, Kelly has not reached the production level of earlier in the season. That would be a 1-3 record and the no-decision (Wednesday night) in his last five starts. The last time he recorded victories in back-to-back-starts was from May 15 to June 9. That’s when Kelly reeled off five straight victories.

With seven of their next 10 games against San Diego and holding a slim two-game lead over San Diego, the question begs, can the Diamondbacks accomplish two immediate goals.

One is to keep the Padres at arm’s length and the other requires vigilance to remain in a position for a postseason experience. Coming to the Padres series, the Diamondbacks are one game under .500 but 2.5 games out of the final NL wild-card slot.

More importantly, they stand two games ahead of San Diego in the NL West division and play seven of their next 10 games against the Padres.

The misery continues … former Diamondback David Peralta delivered a two-out, two-run, bases-loaded single in the eighth inning to power the Dodgers to a 2-0 Wednesday night win before 27,485 in Chase Field.

The defeat was the eighth loss in a row and dropped Arizona, once leading the NL West, below .500 to 57-58.

“I haven’t noticed anyone hanging their heads,” Kelly said afterward. “Everyone knows what’s going on and losing this many games in a row is definitely not fun. I’m pretty proud of everyone in here for not hanging their heads. There are two ways you can go about this. You can feel sorry for yourselves or come in the next day and flush it as fast as you can and win the next one.”

Next … The first three of seven with San Diego over the next two weekends transpire in Chase Field beginning Friday night. Following the Dodgers’ loss Wednesday night, field manager Torey Lovullo was non-committal about his starters. Padres’ skipper Bob Melvin pegged veteran left Blake Snell (8-8, 2.61) to start the series and he is followed by lefty Rich Hill (7-11, 3.37) on Saturday and righty Seth Lugo (4-6, 4.19) in the series finale.

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