Could Merrill Kelly emerge as the Arizona Diamondbacks ‘stopper?’

PHOENIX – Within the annuals of the game, pitchers have survived mediocre seasons from teams and achieved great heights. The immediate example is Philadelphia lefty Steve Carlton, who went 27-10 with a 1.97 ERA during the 1972 season.

During that season, Carlton started 41 games and completed 30 for a team that finished at 59-97, last in the National League East. That included winning the Cy Young award and Carlton placed fifth in the NL voting for MVP.

Fast forward to 2022 and consider the achievements of Arizona right-hander Merrill Kelly, who has won 10 games for a team below .500 most of the season. Part of this conversation includes right-hander Zac Gallen, who, as well, is turning in a creditable season. Coming into his next start on Wednesday in Kansas City, Gallen is 9-2, and 2.78 ERA for 23 starts.

Emerging as the Diamondbacks’ consistent starter, Kelly could be considered the club’s “stopper,” and where manager Torey Lovullo would turn in time of need.

That “time of need” will not likely happen this season. That’s because the Diamondbacks are currently fighting with the Colorado Rockies to avoid landing in the National League West division basement. For his part, Kelly is closing in on a terribly productive season and appears to have reached a level of dependency by Lovullo and his teammates.

The comparison between Carlton, and any pitcher who gained success with a mediocre team, is tempting. While the Diamondbacks maintain a whisper in any NL wild card discussion, their season record, after dropping a 6-4 decision to the St. Louis Cardinals before 25,064 in Chase Field on Sunday afternoon, stood at 55-66 and not conducive to any meaningful post-season conversation.

Still, Kelly recovered from a 3-run, first inning, and later, an RBI single from Jordan Luplow in the third pushed Arizona into a one-run advantage. Kelly took that lead in the seventh, but reliever Kevin Ginkel surrendered a bases-loaded, two-run single to Nolan Arenado.

That pushed the Cardinals into a lead the team did not relinquish. As the case with most of the season, Kelly left the mound without a victory and that “stopper” identification was equally elusive.  Afterward, the 33-year-old acknowledged the numerical value of wins and losses, to him, is inconsequential.

“I’ve never been a starter to hang my hat on wins and losses,” he said after Sunday’s outing. “Some days, I can pitch terrible and get the win, and others, I could pitch great and get the loss. I’ve always thought that the wins-losses stat for a pitcher is a little weird. For me, at the end of the day, the only I’m upset if we lose.”

Coming into his start Sunday against the Cardinals, Kelly had not lost since dropping a 5-1 decision to Detroit in Chase Field on June 24. Since, he recorded four wins and recorded four no-decisions. After Sunday against the Cardinals, make that five no-decisions in his last five starts.

“(Kelly) has zero concern for anything other than going out there, helping his team and throw up zeros,” said manager Lovullo after Sunday’s game. “If his team wins, it’s and doesn’t land on him, I don’t think he has a huge concern about that. What I know of Merrill is he just wants to win the baseball game when he pitches. That’s his mindset and easy for him to separate.”

For his effort on Sunday, Kelly allowed those three, first-inning runs (along with 22-pitch first inning) and then settled into a predictable zone. Over his last five innings of work, Kelly allowed only six base runners, and that included back-to-back walks to Lars Nootbaar and Brendan Donovan to open the third inning. In his six innings of work, Kelly allowed seven hits, three runs walked three, and stuck out six batters during a 97-pitch (59 for strikes) afternoon.

Outta here… Cardinals’ manager Oliver Marmol was tossed by home plate umpire C. B. Bucknor in the top of the third. Marmol disputed a called strike to Nolan Arenado with one out in the inning and had to be restrained by third base umpire Jeff Nelson, the crew chief.  The ejection was the third for Marmol this season and the fourth of his career.  Bench coach Skip Schumaker took over.

Next … The Diamondbacks now hit the road for two in Kansas City and a three-game series this weekend against the White Sox in Chicago. Righty Zack Davies (2-4,3.99, ERA) opens the trip for Arizona on Tuesday night and the Royals have not named a starter for the series opener. On Wednesday, Zac Gallen (9-2, 2.78) opposes righthander Brady Singer 6-4, 3.27). After those three with the White Sox, the Diamondbacks return to Chase Field on Aug. 29 for a seven-game home stand. First, the Philadelphia Phillies are in for three and then four with the Milwaukee Brewers.

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