By most accounts, Arizona Diamondbacks’ right-hander Merrill Kelly reached a watershed mark in his baseball career this past Saturday.
From his days at Desert Mountain High School in the Phoenix area, through his journey wandering about the Tampa Rays organization, his sojourn in the Korean Baseball Organization and his time with the Diamondbacks, his effort in game one of the National League Division Series was monumental.
“Monumental” for several reasons and least of all to exorcise demons from the past.
It was no secret that Kelly’s past against the Dodgers was as harrowing as it was painful. Coming into the opener of the NLDS, Kelly was 0-11 and a 5.44 ERA in 16 starts against the Dodgers. Walks, high pitch counts, and blistering Dodger bats all contributed to this troubled past.
Plus, facing future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw merely exacerbated an already uneasy predicament. Coming off a strong effort in his last outing against the Dodgers on Aug. 9 at Chase Field in which he allowed no runs, and surrendered six hits in six innings, Kelly hoped to use this springboard for a competitive start.
Alas, his teammates eased the burden considerably with a dramatic six-run first inning, chased Kershaw in the shortest outing of his brilliant career, and sailed to an 11-2 win in game one. All of which placed Kelly in a clear comfort zone.
“The runs made my job much easier, that’s for sure,” Kelly told mlb.com “Those guys in the clubhouse jumped all over Kershaw early and going into an attack mode makes it much easier when you have that kind of lead. The run support early made me more conformable and more aggressive. I couldn’t enjoy too much but tried to enjoy as much as I could.”
For the recently completed season, Kelly compiled a 12-8 record and 3.29 ERA. That ERA was good enough for 11th among Major League starters. In the process, Kelly fanned 187 hitters in 177.2 innings. Not considered a dominant strike-out pitcher, Kelly, in the NLDS win over the Dodgers, consistently delivered a first-pitch strike. For that game, he hit that important first-pitch strike zone 16 times out of 21 batters and finished with 89 pitches for 6.1innings.
Now it’s right-hander Zac Gallen’s turn to give the Diamondbacks a clear advantage in this series. With the usual commonality of “no one expected us to be here and we’re playing with house money,” Gallen, who will start game two for Arizona, expressed confidence in his teammates to continue to generate the needed offense.
At the same time, Arizona manager Torey Lovullo told reporters during Sunday’s off day he plans to stay with a basic routine.
“I’ll do it the same way as I’ve done with Zac all season long,” Lovullo told mlb.com. “He consistently goes out here and executes the game plan that a very high level. That’s what we talk about around here. Just going out, competing and doing our job. That’s our mindset as a group. I’ll be watching Zac and figuring out when to turn it over to the bullpen. It will be the same math equation that I follow all the time, but it does feel very good.”
For the recently completed season, Gallen went 17-8, posted a 3.49 ERA in 33 starts, and fanned 213 hitters in 203.2 innings.
Game two at Dodger Stadium … Gallen draws 6-5 rookie right-hander Bobby Miller (11-4, 3.76 ERA for 22 starts) as his mound opponent. Miller is considered a strikeout pitcher and recorded 119 Ks in 124.1 innings in those 22 starts. Game three then shifts to Chase Field on Wednesday night. That’s when Brandon Pfaadt (3-9, 5.72 ERA in 18 starts) gets the ball from Lovullo and L. A. manager Dave Roberts is uncertain. Should the Dodgers push this series to a fourth game, that is Thursday night in Chase Field and Clayton Kershaw is expected to start for the Dodgers. If a deciding fifth game in this best-of-three series is needed, that is slated for Dodger Stadium this Saturday.