In an otherwise brilliant season, Merrill Kelly is aware of potential snag

PHOENIX – Despite accolades for 2022, perhaps the one challenge for Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Merrill Kelly is the inability to keep runners close. While not terribly frightening as an independent statistic, the failure to hold runners close merely adds another layer to a psychological dimension usually taken for granted.

At 33-years-old, Kelly is on track for a brilliant season. Still, the potential catastrophe of allowing runners to take extra bases and set up scoring situations is clearly not in his best interest. As National League pitcher of the month for July, Kelly emerged as one of the dominant arms in the league but shook off Thursday’s sub-par outing against Pittsburgh (five innings and three earned runs) as an aberration.

For all of Kelly’s achievements this season, that malady appeared against the Pirates in Chase Field. Perhaps not a defined weakness but at least an important dimension of Kelly’s game that could be compromised.

That would be his inability to hold runners tight and the consequence led to a significant run early in Thursday’s game. That was lost in an eventually Diamondbacks’ 9-3 over the Pittsburgh before 12,725 in Chase Field. Still, the Pirates stole four bases on Kelly, including a double steal in the fourth inning that led to the first Pittsburgh run.

While Kelly is on target for 15 to 17 wins, the necessity of keeping runners close will clearly accentuate challenges in the future. For his part, Kelly recognizes this conceivable disaster.

“(The Pirates) are a team which prides itself on running,” Kelly said after the game. “I think they tried to take advantage. Maybe go back and look at the video and see what the times were and see if we can tweak something here and there. I don’t anyone to try and steal at any time. I’ll go back and look at the film, see the times and go from there.”

While the Pirates are far from National League leaders in stolen bases, they have been caught 25 times. Only the Chicago Cubs have been caught more in steal attempts. On Thursday, Pirates manager Derek Shelton started several runners in low count situations and executed more than average hit-and-run situations for runners starting from first base.

At this point, the phenomenon of base runners taking advantage of Kelly is clearly an aspect that caught the attention of decision-makers.

“Yes, I saw that (Thursday), and no, I don’t think that will be a challenge,” said manager Torey Lovullo. “We have several tools able to stop that. (Bench coach) Jeff Banister, who controls the running game, works really hard with all pitchers and catchers to be able to shut down the running game. We have to figure that out a little bit.”

On Thursday … the Diamondbacks picked up Kelly with a come-from-behind victory Down 3-0, they scored two in the fifth and seven in the seventh. A key hit was delivered by newly acquired Emmanuel Rivera, who drilled a double down the left field line with runners on second and third in the seventh and one out. That put the Diamondbacks in the lead and later in the inning, Daulton Varsho hit a double high off the center field fence with the bases loaded. That scored three and iced the win. Earlier, Rivera put the Diamondbacks on the board with a solo shot into the left field bleachers to lead off the fourth inning.

“I feel like I’ve been here years now and I’m able to adapt very well with the people here,” Rivera said through an interpreter. “Playing for Torey is great. This is the first time I’ve had a manager of the type that cares about his players, and, at home, I feel super comfortable. It’s like I’m with my family.”

With a road trip coming up over the next week, Lovullo told reporters after the game Rivera will be in the line-up and especially against left-handed pitching.

For the afternoon, Rivera, acquired from Kansas City on Aug. 1 for pitcher Luke Weaver, went 3-for-5 with two doubles, a homer, and drove in three runs.

Monthly awards … The Diamondbacks July minor league awards went to position player Deyvison De Los Santos and pitcher Jamison Hill.  Combined with High-A Hillsboro and Single- Visalia, De Los Santos hit .407 with four doubles, a triple, five homers and drove in 12 runs. Hill combined for a 3-1 record with Hillsboro and Visalia and a 2.89 ERA in four starts.

Next … on Friday, the Diamondbacks begin a seven-game road trip. The first stop is Denver and three with the Rockies. On Friday, right Zack Davies (2-4, 4.03) opens the series and draws righty Antonio Senzatela (3-6, 4.68).  For Saturday, look for righty Zac Gallen (7-2, 3.12) to oppose righty Jose Urena (1-3, 4.63). For the Sunday afternoon finale, it’s lefty Tommy Henry (1-2, 3.75) taking on righty Ryan Feltner (2-3, 6.02). Then, it’s on to San Francisco for four with the Giants. Arizona returns to Chase Field on Friday, Aug 19 to face the St. Louis Cardinals.

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